FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
August 22, 2023
Manisha Sunil, West End Strategy Team
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Guthrie Graves-Fitzsimmons, BJC (Baptist Joint Committee for Religious Liberty)
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Joshua Houston, Texas Impact
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More than 100 Texas Chaplains Urge State School Boards to Keep Chaplains Out of Public Schools
The chaplains issued the call in response to SB 763, which permits school districts to allow faith-based chaplains to serve as counselors in public schools
WASHINGTON—More than 100 Texas chaplains issued a letter today urging school board members statewide to reject the new opportunity to recruit government-approved chaplains to “provide support, services, and programs for students” in public schools.
The letter, organized by BJC (Baptist Joint Committee for Religious Liberty), Interfaith Alliance, and Texas Impact, was released as the state prepares to enact SB 763 on Sept. 1. The law requires school districts to vote on whether or not to create chaplaincy programs.
The chaplains say these programs are an affront to the religious freedom rights of students and parents as well as church-state separation, and the programs would take funding away from trained mental health professionals who are better equipped to serve students.
“As trained chaplains, we strongly caution against the government assertion of authority for the spiritual development and formation of our public school children,” reads the letter. “Not only are chaplains serving in public schools likely to bring about conflict with the religious beliefs of parents, but chaplains serving in public schools would also amount to spiritual malpractice by the chaplains.”
The signatories expressed alarm that the new law does not require chaplains to refrain from proselytizing while at schools or to serve students from different religious backgrounds than their own. Further, the law dictates that salaries for school chaplains be drawn from funds designated “to improve school safety and security.” Those funds are directed at – but not limited to – restorative discipline and justice practices, mental and behavioral health support, and suicide prevention, intervention, and postvention. At the same time, the law does not require any specific training or qualifications for the chaplains to provide these services to students.
“Public schools are not the place for religious instruction – that is best left to houses of worship, religious institutions and families,” said Amanda Tyler, executive director of BJC and lead organizer of the Christians Against Christian Nationalism campaign. “As both the mom of a third grader in a Dallas public school and a Baptist leader committed to religious freedom, I’m deeply concerned about growing Christian nationalism in Texas. Christian nationalism conflates religious and political authority, and our public schools should not be endorsing religion — they should continue to leave that up to the students and their families. School districts should reject this misguided effort to inject more religion and division in our schools.”
“Texas Impact’s member faith traditions recognize the unique value of chaplains in some of life’s most challenging situations, and that’s why they insist on rigorous training and oversight of chaplains under their commission,” said The Rev. Franz Schemmel, Texas Impact board president and pastor at Messiah Lutheran Church in Weatherford, TX. “Public schools are not an appropriate setting for sectarian chaplains of any description, let alone the freelance, unsupervised chaplains this legislation envisions.”
“Chaplains across Texas have taken a powerful moral stand against the legislature’s effort to foist religion onto public schools and undermine student health and safety,” said The Rev. Paul Brandeis Raushenbush, president and CEO of Interfaith Alliance. “As a Baptist minister, former chaplain, and as a parent, I reject the notion that religious instruction has any place in public schools meant to serve students of all backgrounds and identities. I commend these chaplains for standing up for church-state separation and demanding that every student can access mental health and behavioral support from trained professionals, free from the risk of religious coercion.”
This move comes as religious extremists are working to dismantle the wall of separation in public schools and divert taxpayer dollars to religious activities in schools across the country. A pair of Supreme Court decisions handed down last year, Carson v. Makin and Kennedy v. Bremerton, have opened the floodgates for funneling public money toward religious schools and for coercive school prayer, respectively. Meanwhile, Oklahoma and Guam recently approved the establishment of the nation’s first religious public charter schools, while lawmakers and school boards nationwide have aimed to push Bible studies onto public schools.
The Texas Legislature also came close to forcing public schools to display the Ten Commandments in classrooms during the past session, and last year it required schools to display “In God We Trust” signs.
Spokespeople for each partner organization are available for print, radio, TV, podcast, and other interviews. We can also connect you with chaplains in specific parts of the state. Amanda Tyler spoke to CNN about the resurgence of Christian nationalism from University Baptist Church in Austin last year, and The Rev. Paul Brandeis Raushenbush recently spoke with NPR and Democracy Now.
Interfaith Alliance is a network of people of diverse faiths and beliefs from across the country working together to build a resilient democracy and fulfill America’s promise of religious freedom and civil rights not just for some, but for all. We mobilize powerful coalitions to challenge Christian nationalism and religious extremism, while fostering a better understanding of the healthy boundaries between religion and government. We advocate at all levels of government for an equitable and just America where the freedoms of belief and religious practice are protected, and where all persons are treated with dignity and have the opportunity to thrive. For more information visit interfaithalliance.org.