On Wednesday, the Texas Legislature passed a bill allowing unlicensed religious chaplains to counsel students in public schools. Despite concerns from opponents who worry about the potential for evangelization and the use of disproven counseling methods, Senate Bill 763 received an 84-60 vote of approval in the Texas House following its passage in the Texas Senate. The bill permits Texas schools to allocate safety funds to hire unlicensed chaplains for mental health roles, while volunteer chaplains will also be permitted to serve in schools.
Last week, the bill faced a delay as Texas House members proposed an amendment that would have required chaplains to possess accreditation similar to those working in prisons or the U.S. military. However, this amendment was ultimately defeated during negotiations between the two chambers.
In addition to this, House Democrats had previously suggested several amendments to the bill. These included provisions to prohibit proselytizing or attempts to convert students to different religions, mandating that chaplains obtain parental consent before counseling students, and requiring schools to provide chaplains from any faith or denomination requested by students. Unfortunately, all of these proposed amendments were unsuccessful.
Representative Cole Hefner, the author of the House version of the bill, stated during the debates that local school boards would have the authority to establish their own requirements for chaplains. “I want to make sure that we’re making it clear—that everybody knows—that schools may choose to do this or not, and that they can put whatever rules and regulations in place that they see fit,” he affirmed.
Supporters of the bill, predominantly conservative Christians, argued that religious chaplains could help address societal issues such as school shootings, drug use, and suicide by reintroducing religious values into classrooms. During legislative hearings, they assured lawmakers that chaplains had no interest in proselytizing. However, The Texas Tribune reported last week that the leader of the National School Chaplain Association, a prominent supporter of the bill, has been associated with a group that has promoted the use of school chaplains for evangelizing children.
Opponents of the bill, including religious organizations and Christian Democrats, express concerns that the legislation could serve as a Trojan horse for religious activists to recruit within schools. They also fear that tensions may escalate at local school boards, which have the final say on whether to allow chaplains in schools.
Joshua Houston of Texas Impact, an interfaith organization advocating on behalf of some of the state’s largest religious groups, criticized the bill, stating, “This is not what a real chaplaincy program looks like. We have chaplains as members. We have seminaries as members that train chaplains. They all have qualifications. In this bill, they are completely unqualified.” Houston likened the bill’s training requirements to an online marriage ordination, implying that they lack sufficient rigor.