Texas Lawmakers Vote to Allow Chaplains in Public Schools to Combat Mental Health Crisis
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The Texas Legislature has passed a measure that would allow public schools to hire chaplains in addition to school counselors.
To be eligible for the program, all chaplains will need to be endorsed by an organization recognized by the United States Department of Defense, the Federal Bureau of Prisons, or the Texas Department of Criminal Justice.
Religion News Service (RNS) reports a version of the bill already sailed through the state Senate last month, and the Texas House passed an amended version on Tuesday evening (May 9) in a vote that appeared to fall largely along party lines, with 89 voting in favor and 58 opposed.
State Rep. Cole Hefner (R-Mount Pleasant) told The Dallas Morning News the legislation is about giving school districts "every tool that we can in the toolbox" to combat mental health problems and other crises. He rejected Democrats' amendments to require parental consent and that schools provide a representative of every denomination.
According to the outlet, Texas faces a shortage of qualified mental health professionals to work in schools. The American School Counselor Association recommends a ratio of 250 students to every counselor. In Texas, it was 392-to-1, according to 2021 data.
Critics of the move are complaining it will lead to Christian influence in state schools. "This is certainly moving towards a preferred faith in Texas, which is something that is deeply concerning," Joshua Houston, advocacy director for the interfaith group Texas Impact, told The Morning News.
State Rep. Gene Wu (D-District 137) tried to bar schools from using public funds to pay the chaplains. "We should not use public monies to compensate religious services," Wu said.
But National School Chaplain Association CEO Rocky Malloy responded directly to all of the criticism during his committee testimony last month. Malloy believes the bill will increase school safety and will not intrude on students' religious beliefs, according to the RNS.
"Chaplains operate within an individual's belief and convictions — they are not working to convert people to religion," he said. As noted earlier, the chaplains must be endorsed by an official government agency that requires that type of training.
During the House debate, state Rep. Hefner was also asked about his refusal to amend the bill to bar proselytizing, RNS reports.
He argued chaplains are already trained to avoid proselytizing. Hefner also noted that people of any faith can become chaplains and insisted he did not want people "forcing their religion" on others — including his own children.
"This is just to help supplement and complement our counselors in doing the job that (are) working really hard," he said.
The bill will require school boards to vote on whether to hire chaplains, according to the RNS. It also forbids registered sex offenders from serving as chaplains and requires background checks for all applicants.
The chaplain bill is one of three separate faith-related proposals currently making its way through the legislature.
One bill would require all classrooms in the Lone Star State to hang posters of the Ten Commandments. Another would allow for Bible reading and prayer time during school.
The Ten Commandments legislation would require posters that are at least 20 inches high and 16 inches wide to be displayed in every classroom that declare "I AM the LORD thy God. Thou shalt have no other gods before me" and include the other commandments, according to The Morning News.
When the outlet asked state Rep. Brad Buckley (R-House District 54), who chairs the public education committee if the Ten Commandment posters would infringe on students who aren't Christians, Buckley said the bill doesn't call for instruction.
Texas Republicans see an opening after the recent U.S. Supreme Court opinion that sided with a high school football coach who prayed on the field after games. Advocates say the opinion sets out a constitutional test that relies on history and tradition, and they are eager to test the proposed Texas laws before the court's conservative majority, The Morning News reports.
"The opportunity is there," former Texas state Rep. Matt Krause told the Senate education committee. "We think there could be a restoration of faith in America."
Other states have also put the Ten Commandments alongside other historical documents as well posters proclaiming "In God We Trust" back in schools and public buildings.
As CBN News reported, Florida is one of a handful of states that passed laws in 2018 requiring or permitting schools and other public buildings to prominently post the words "In God We Trust."
Florida state Rep. Kimberly Daniels (D-Jacksonville), who sponsored the bill to get "In God We Trust" in all public schools in The Sunshine State, told CBN News in February of 2022: "I believe with all the negativity going on, our children need to know the foundation of what this country is all about and what it was founded on."
"God is positive; I put that forth like that because people want to make God a negative thing; God is good," Daniels explained. "And God is the Creator; He's the Initiator; He's the Alpha; He's the Omega, and our children need to see that because the eyes are the gateway to the soul."
"And so they need to see that symbol, and it needs to be imprinted in their minds and in their hearts what it meant to the people who came to this country for religious liberty," she continued.
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