Texas Schools Say “No” to Chaplain Counselors 

Despite the passage of Senate Bill 763, which allows hiring religious chaplains as counselors, Texas school districts have overwhelmingly rejected implementing a new chaplain program. Texas public schools faced a March 1 deadline to decide whether to implement the controversial bill locally. While an exact count of which of Texas’ more than 1,200 school districts approved the implementation is unavailable, on-the-ground tracking from the Baptist Joint Committee for Religious Liberty notes just three small districts that approved the use of employed chaplains as school counselors: Angleton ISD in the Houston area, Paducah ISD near Lubbock, and Waskom ISD in far East Texas.  

The state’s 25 largest districts (which serve one third of all Texas public school students), along with many smaller ones, have decided to maintain their existing volunteer policies. This means chaplains can participate in school activities like any other volunteer, but they cannot replace qualified, credentialed school counselors. 

Graphic credit: Baptist Joint Committee for Religious Liberty (BJC) 

This outcome is a testament to the respect for trained school counselors and the power of local control and community advocacy. Advocacy groups representing various faiths, clergy members, and lay leaders — including over 170 chaplains — opposed the bill out of concern for religious liberty and student well-being. Their voices and those of parents advocating for their children were heard by school boards across the state. 

While some supporters of SB 763 argue it’s intended to help rural districts that have a hard time filling school counselor positions, the bill is both unnecessary and potentially harmful for several reasons: 

  • Texas schools already have trained counselors who provide the mental health support students need. Many of these counselors are themselves people of faith. 
  • The bill promotes a narrow view of Christianity, potentially alienating students from diverse faith traditions or no faith tradition and undermining their right to religious freedom. 
  • The bill contains no prohibition on proselytizing. 
  • Chaplains lack the qualifications to replace licensed mental health professionals. 
  • The bill does not include a requirement for parental consent. 

This successful outcome is a clear victory for inclusion in public education and the respect of all student beliefs within our public schools. 

The resounding rejection of SB 763 also highlights the power of local action. Your continued advocacy before school boards and in the community has demonstrably made a difference. Together, we can protect students in our public schools from the threat of Christian Nationalism and ensure that the needs of all students are met by providing quality services in an inclusive manner. 

Moving forward, public education supporters in the Texas Legislature should champion the cause of growing the number of qualified mental health professionals in public schools. Increased funding should be directed toward licensed school counselors and social workers, not hiring unqualified chaplains. 

Finally, we must remain vigilant. Similar bills targeting public education have already appeared in several other states. Texas serves as a powerful example of how to mobilize and successfully oppose such measures in our local communities.