Mar 24, 2024

Advertiser "op-ed" opposing chaplins in public Schools


Vote down Alabama’s unwise, unconstitutional chaplain-in-school bill

Ryan D. Jayne
Special to the Advertiser

An unwise bill introduced in Alabama to allow public schools to hire paid or volunteer chaplains should be voted down.

House Bill 59 would permit chaplains to “provide support, services, and programs for students” in public schools. The chaplains, unlike the bonafide counselors they might replace, would not be required to undergo certification by the state Department of Education and would only have to pass a criminal background check. Notably, the bill has no safeguards against the fundamental constitutional violations it produces. 

Public schools are not allowed to promote religion over nonreligion or to prefer one religion over another. Yet school officials could presumably choose to hire chaplains who are, say, Baptist, Lutheran, Methodist proselytizing and counseling children of other religions or no religion during school hours. Religious instruction or counseling has no place in our public schools, and students should not be made to feel disfavored or “othered” for not belonging to the same religion or church as school officials. 

If HB 59 were to pass, it would invite schools to launch headlong into costly, unwinnable lawsuits. We’re already seeing this play out in Texas, where a similar bill was passed last year and now school districts are voting on chaplain programs. Those that hire chaplains to proselytize students during the school day can look forward to lawsuits from students and parents represented by groups such as the Freedom From Religion Foundation.

Chaplains in schools are being championed by the National School Chaplain Association. Its parent organization, Mission Generation Inc., has a goal to reach “the largest unreached people group inside of the schools around the world” in order to “influence those in education until the saving grace of Jesus become well-known, and students develop a personal relationship with Him.” In Mission Generation’s own words, the organization works to exploit the “massive lack of school counselors throughout public schools” by filling the void with religious chaplains in order to “win” and “disciple” school-age children.

Alabama state Rep. Mark Gidley, who introduced the bill early this year, wrongly claims that the “separation of church and state” is not in the Constitution. Says Gidley, “It’s a talking point that has been used, that really does not exist in our Constitution.” This is patently untrue, as the framers were first in history to adopt a godless Constitution whose only references to religion are exclusionary, such as barring religious tests for public office. They adopted the Bill of Rights, whose First Amendment prohibits government establishment of religion. The phrase “separation between church and state,” coined by President Thomas Jefferson, is shorthand to describe that essential American principle. Alabama’s state Constitution likewise bars any religious establishment or preference for religion, or taxes being used to pay for any minister or ministry (Article 1, Section 3).

Alabama’s Legislature should outright reject this imprudent and unconstitutional bill and keep its public school system secular and inclusive of all students. 

Ryan D. Jayne is Senior Policy Counsel for the FFRF Action Fund, the lobbying arm of the Freedom From Religion Foundation, a national nonprofit with approximately 40,000 members across the country, including hundreds of members in Alabama.

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