Texas School Boards Must Reject School Chaplains, Civil-Liberties Groups Warn

Affiliate: ACLU of Texas
June 26, 2023 4:45 pm

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AUSTIN, Texas — Allowing chaplains in public schools would violate the state and U.S. constitutions, according to a letter sent to Texas school districts and charter schools today by the American Civil Liberties Union, the ACLU of Texas, Americans United for Separation of Church and State, and the Freedom From Religion Foundation. The letter follows the passage of Senate Bill No. 763, which requires all school boards to vote on whether to adopt a policy to hire, or accept as volunteers, chaplains who will “provide support, services, and programs for students.” The civil-liberties groups warned in their letter that they will closely monitor school boards’ implementation of the legislation and will take any action that is necessary and appropriate to protect the rights of Texas children and their parents to be free from government-imposed religion.

Although SB No. 763 purports to authorize public-school chaplains, today’s letter informs districts that permitting chaplains to assume official positions—whether paid or voluntary—in public schools will lead to religious coercion and indoctrination of students in violation of the First Amendment. And because chaplains are generally affiliated with specific religious denominations and traditions, in deciding which chaplains to hire or accept, schools would inherently give unconstitutional preferences to particular faiths.

The letter further explains that courts have repeatedly ruled that it is unconstitutional for public schools to invite religious leaders onto campus to engage in religious activities, such as prayer and religious counseling, with students.

The civil-liberties groups monitoring school boards’ responses to the new law issued the following statement regarding Texas’s school-chaplain law:

“Allowing chaplains in public schools is unconstitutional. The First Amendment guarantees families and their chosen religious communities—not government-imposed religious leaders—the right to educate their children about matters of faith.

“Texas’s public schools are religiously diverse, and all students should feel safe and welcome in them. Opening the schoolhouse doors to chaplains would undermine this critical goal. We will not hesitate to defend the rights of students and families against school districts that take up the Legislature’s misguided and unlawful invitation to install clergy in official positions.”

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