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Chaplains may be allowed in public schools if some US states pass law

Robert Besser
2 Apr 2024

WASHINGTON, D.C.: Lawmakers in some U.S. states have proposed legislation allowing spiritual chaplains in public schools, claiming that it will help solve the youth mental health crisis, increase staff retention, and offer spiritual care to students who cannot afford or access religious schools.

Religious foundations will act as a "rescue mission" for public schools' declining values, conservative supporters of the idea have said.

Some Republican-controlled legislatures also claimed that the move could help address issues such as parental oversight of curriculums, restricting books and instruction on gender identity, and state-funded tuition assistance for private and religious schools.

However, some chaplains and interfaith organizations oppose the proposal and have called its motivation offensive.

Maureen O'Leary, organizing director at Interfaith Alliance, said, "They are going to be engaging students, sometimes when they are at their most vulnerable, and there is not going to be any checks on whether they are able to proselytize, what they are able to say to kids grappling with really difficult issues."

The organization has shared concerns with lawmakers and school boards, saying schools should be "neutral spaces where students can come as their full selves," she added, stressing, "This is not a matter of being pro religion and anti-religion. This is a matter of the appropriate role of religion as it applies to public schools."

Under a law passed in 2023, Texas became the first state to allow school chaplains.

Former Republican President Donald Trump also encouraged state governing bodies to reduce the separation between church and public schools, which was criticized by civil liberties groups who claimed that this could threaten religious minorities and undermine equal treatment of all faiths.

In 1962, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that adults leading students in classroom prayer violated the First Amendment clause forbidding the establishment of a government religion.

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