BJC creates ‘chaplain’ vote tracker for top 25 largest school districts in Texas as deadline approaches
By March 1, a new Texas law requires school districts to vote on whether to hire “chaplains” to serve as public school counselors without any training. Earlier this month, the board of the largest district in the state voted no on that problematic program. The Houston Independent School District unanimously adopted a resolution declining to implement the controversial chaplain policy authorized by Texas’ SB 763, which was passed last year.
Voting down this proposal heeds the call of chaplains all across the state who voiced their opposition to the idea. Responding to the law, more than 170 Texas chaplains signed a letter organized by BJC, Interfaith Alliance, and Texas Impact, urging school districts to vote against putting such a policy in place. “As trained chaplains,” the letter reads, “we strongly caution against the government assertion of authority for the spiritual development and formation of our public school children.”
A Houston Chronicle report quotes two of the chaplains who signed the letter because they understand well the problems that can arise from untrained clergy providing counseling to public school students:
“You can be a parent from a conservative Bible-believing house and I as chaplain can tell your child all sorts of things that you find absolutely objectionable and horrific,” [Rev. Charles Graves IV] said in jest. “For anybody, it could create huge problems. I don’t understand how the Legislature didn’t see these gigantic holes that will inevitably come up.”
“I get highly suspicious when there’s not a clear job description of what that person is supposed to do and what are the requirements for that person to serve in that capacity,” [Rev. Theodore Smith] said. “I get very, very concerned that they see it as a form to change and convert persons, especially young persons who are still in the stage of questioning and exploring. They’re just kids!”
With the March 1 deadline approaching, how are the votes going?
BJC has a website page dedicated to this issue, and it includes a brand-new Texas “chaplain” vote tracker on that page monitoring the 25 largest school districts in the state for how they are voting on this issue. These districts enroll more than 1.8 million school children, approximately 1/3 of all the public school children in the state.
This bill lets anyone who can pass a background check call themself a “chaplain” and have access to children in public schools. Not only are trained chaplains not necessarily qualified to do the work of public school counselors, their spiritual guidance encroaches on the rights of parents to choose the religious leaders who will instruct their children. As the chaplain letter says, “[g]overnment-sanctioned chaplains make sense in some settings, but not in our public schools. … Public schools should not interfere or alter parental decisions in the realm of religious exercise or spiritual care.”
All school districts in Texas are required to vote by March 1. Visit BJC’s page on this issue for all the details and to see how the largest districts in the state are responding.