the flag of Louisiana. It depicts a pelican feeding its young and the words Union, Justice, Confidence

Louisiana chaplain-in-school bill is reckless, misguided, charges FFRF Action Fund 

Facebook
Twitter
Print

FFRF Action Fund denounces a Louisiana bill allowing public schools to employ chaplains to counsel (proselytize) school-age children. The bill recently passed through the Louisiana Legislature and is headed to the governor’s desk where it is almost assured that Gov. Jeff Landry will sign it.

SB 123 would permit chaplains to “provide support, services, and programs for students” in public schools. Unlike the qualified counselors they might replace, the chaplains would not be required to undergo certification by the State Board of Elementary and Secondary Education. They would only have to pass background checks and confirm they are not sex offenders. 

Notably, the bill has no safeguards against the fundamental constitutional violations it produces. Public schools are not allowed to promote religion over nonreligion or to prefer one religion over another. Yet school officials could presumably choose to hire chaplains who share their own beliefs to proselytize children of other religions or no religion during school hours. Religious instruction or counseling has no place in our secular public schools — and students should not be made to feel disfavored or “othered” for not belonging to the same religion or church as school officials. 

If SB 123 is enacted into law, it would invite schools to launch headlong into costly, unwinnable lawsuits. We’re already seeing this starting to play out in Texas, where a similar bill was passed last year, and where school districts were asked to vote on whether to start chaplain programs. Those districts that hire chaplains to religiously counsel students during the school day can look forward to lawsuits from students and parents represented by groups like the Freedom From Religion Foundation. 

Versions of this bill have unfortunately popped up throughout the nation in the last two legislative sessions, due to the lobbying efforts of the National School Chaplain Association (NSCA), which is responsible for the onslaught of these bills. NCSA’s parent organization, Mission Generation Inc., aims to reach “the largest unreached people group inside of the schools around the world” to “influence those in education until the saving grace of Jesus becomes well-known, and students develop a personal relationship with Him.” In Mission Generation’s own words, the organization wants to exploit the “massive lack of school counselors throughout public schools” by filling the void with religious chaplains in order to “win” and “disciple” school-age children. The motivations behind these bills need no debate when the backing organizations say upfront what they hope to accomplish.

In Louisiana, bill proponents are nevertheless attempting to camouflage the bill’s religious rationale. Purporting to cite a Columbia University study, bill sponsor Sen. Mark Abraham, in an interview with a local news station, makes the implausible claim that 30,000 schools with chaplains around the world have had “zero” suicides. Unable to find the study verifying this after a thorough search, FFRF Action Fund contacted Abraham’s office asking for a copy of the study, but has not heard back. Additionally, FFRF Action Fund staff contacted the reporter and the station’s news director to ask if they could point us to the study — the news director responded by saying that they did not have the study Abraham was referencing. With suicide globally being the fourth leading cause of death among 15–29-year-olds, this claim seems patently absurd. 

“FFRF Action Fund will continue to speak out against these egregious bills should they pop up in other states throughout the rest of the country,” says FFRF President Annie Laurie Gaylor.  “Student needs are best served by secular, trained professionals able to work in a pluralistic environment.”

FFRF Action Fund is a 501(c)(4) organization that develops and advocates for legislation, regulations and government programs to preserve the constitutional principle of separation between state and church. It also advocates for the rights and views of nonbelievers, endorses candidates for political office, and publicizes the views of elected officials concerning religious liberty issues.