As reported last week by AFN, a bill that would permit school districts in Texas to have volunteer or paid chaplains in public schools was making its way through the state legislator. That bill now needs only the governor's signature to become law. Julie Pickren, a representative with the Texas State Board of Education (SBOE), is confident that will happen.
"I don't speak for the governor, but I don't believe he has any intent of vetoing this wonderful piece of legislation," she said on American Family Radio Friday.
If the bill comes law, chaplains could be on Texas campuses next school year.
Not surprisingly, some don't see S.B. 763 as wonderful and hope Gov. Greg Abbott will not sign it.
"Texas students, who are a diverse community with varied religious views and cultural practices, deserve to enjoy true religious freedom at public schools without being forced to learn according to the religious right's belief system," the Texas Freedom Network responded in a news release.
Texas Freedom contends chaplains in schools would put LGBTQ children at risk of discrimination and harm.
Abbott, a Republican, has signed pro-Christian legislation before. In 2015 he approved the Pastor Protection Act, which protects religious organizations and individuals from performing marriage ceremonies to conflict with their beliefs. In addition, during the pandemic he overturned some local stay-at-home orders by allowing in-person church services to continue.
The chaplains bill is not the only pro-Christian legislation being considered by Texas lawmakers. Classrooms could soon display the Ten Commandments.
Not a mandate – just an option
In moving the chaplains bill ahead, the Texas legislature amended the state's education code with a brief job description. The chaplain position, as defined in the bill, is not a mandate but is left to the discretion of the school district.
In addition, chaplains can be paid personnel or volunteers; their duties are determined by the local school board or the governing body of a school; and they are not required to be certified by the board of education.
More concerns were raised when some contended that paying chaplains would compete with paying counselors, many of whom believe they're underpaid, but the legislature allocated separate funding for chaplains.
The bill's journey has caught the attention of President Joe Biden's administration.
"On May 15th I received a letter from the U.S. Department of Education with guidelines on prayer in schools and religion in schools. I think they're taking notice of great legislation that Texas is passing," Pickren told show host Jenna Ellis.
Other red states could follow suit. In addition, the National School Chaplain Association is campaigning to put more chaplains in schools, according to its website.
High Court's coach vote creates conservative confidence
Texas Republican leaders gained confidence in moving forward with the chaplains bill because of last year's 6-3 Supreme Court decision that said Joe Kennedy (pictured below), a high school football coach in Washington state, was exercising his free speech when he prayed at the 50-yard line after games. The players who joined him did so voluntarily, Kennedy said.
"We think it is ripe, the opportunity is there," former state Rep. Matt Krause told the Texas Senate education committee in April. "We think there could be a restoration of faith in America."
"We saw with the Supreme Court case with Coach Kennedy that prayer is firmly back in our schools. So, there's not really anything to block a chaplain now as a school employee," Pickren said.
The Texas SBOE member points out that chaplains are already a key part of the public sector in the military, in prisons, in hospitals and, in Texas, in some airports. She began to think about chaplains in schools when she served as an elected trustee in her local district in Manvel, Texas, south of Houston. The district serves 30,000 students.
"A few years ago, we created what was called the superintendent's pastoral team that was made up of faith leaders from the district. We invited them to meet with our superintendent and to come onto our campuses," Pickren explained.
Soon the district began to see a decrease in fighting and an increase in teacher morale. "We saw amazing results," she shared. "There was just a calmness and peace that was brought to our campuses."
Pickren says chaplains are especially helpful for teachers at a time that many are leaving the profession.
"If you're a teacher right now and you're going through a hard situation, your only option is to talk to either a peer who you hope will keep your confidence or … to somebody who's in a position of authority over you. It's huge for our teachers to be able to talk with somebody who's safe or to pray with somebody of faith because chaplains bring prayer back into schools."
Picken says her research shows America far behind in making chaplains available for students. "It's my understanding that America is the only country of Westernized countries that does not have chaplains for our students," she added.