HUMANIST EDGE | Florida’s Chaplain Bill Throws Gates Wide Open

Bills allowing chaplains in public schools, like the one described in this article, have now been proposed in at least thirteen states across the country.

Florida is the most recent of several states which have passed legislation allowing for chaplains in public schools to replace licensed counselors. Proponents have touted it as an opportunity to approach the challenges children are facing with new tools to support overwhelmed teachers and counselors. Detractors point to the disintegration of the wall between church and state and of the concealed motives of religious groups to discriminate against LGBTQ+ and other children who belong to minority religions or no religion at all.

Texas’ school chaplain law, which the Florida bill is modeled after, is instructive. The National School Chaplain Association (NSCA) worked hand in glove with SB763’s champion, Rep. Cole Hefner, to craft that law. The Association’s founder, Rocky Mallory, spoke in favor of it during debates. But the NSCA is a subsidiary of Mission Generation inc., an evangelical Christian missionary organization founded by the same Rocky Mallory. Mallory rigged Mission Generation’s website to redirect to the NSCA’s during the debates even as he plead there was no ulterior motive to the bill.

Normally, professional chaplains certify through one of several venerable agencies such as the American Association of Pastoral Counselors. This process can take as long as ten years including college education, and the official endorsement from a faith group. Even the NSCA wants two years of college. But Florida’s bill asks only for a background check and a record of the volunteer’s denomination, not an official endorsement.

Even Christian chaplains across the country have reacted with horror and rage to attempts to transform the profession into a volunteer or paid opportunity to abuse vulnerable groups in protected spaces. Texas chaplains even sent a dissenting letter to their school boards. But people like Mallory and his donors may be biting off more than they can chew. Across the country, Americans have used legislation intended to privilege Evangelical Christianity in public institutions as venues to have their non-Christian faiths represented where they had never been before. The Satanic Temple is infamous for turning the legislation of book bans, religious displays on public land, school programs, and school prayer into protected venues for Satanism. As humanists we welcome the free exercise and investigation of religion in appropriate contexts. Many of us have arrived at humanism because we were able to investigate our own and other religions. While Mallory and his backers may be seeking to stem the exodus of young people from their faith, they may in fact be accelerating it by exposing their scheme to the increasingly liberal and information-literate children of the US.