AUSTIN, Texas – A law will soon take effect in the state of Texas that allows public schools to replace professional counselors with uncertified religious ministers.
Gov. Greg Abbott is expected to sign the bill passed by the Republican-controlled Legislature on Wednesday.
The state House of Representatives approved the bill after its counterparts in the Senate passed it.
The measure allows school districts to hire chaplains or accept them as volunteers to provide support, services, and programs to students.
Activists say replacing school counselors with unlicensed chaplains amounts to forcing state-sponsored religion into public schools.
According to the Washington Post, Republicans in the Texas Senate also passed a bill that would allow districts to require schools to allow staff and students time to pray and read religious texts.
Another bill allowed public employees to engage in religious prayer and speech – modeled after the Coach ruling.
Those two bills did not make it out of House committees Wednesday and were not considered likely to return this session.
Earlier last month, the state Senate had approved another bill that would require teachers to post an edited version of the Ten Commandments in every classroom in Texas.
The proposal was approved by Senate Republicans but could not be acted on because the House did not vote on it before midnight Tuesday.
The right-leaning Christian lawmakers who supported those bills have called the separation of church and state a “false doctrine”
Texas attorney for the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), David Donatti, said in a statement that the purpose of these bills was clearly to control what students think by banning books and curriculum.
“The purpose of these bills is clear: The same lawmakers trying to control what students think by banning books and censoring curricula now want to dictate what students’ worship,” he said.
He added that these legislators now want to dictate what students’ worship.
He said the First Amendment guarantees families and faith communities – not politicians or government – the right to teach their children religious beliefs.
“Whether trying to place the Ten Commandments in every classroom or replacing school counselors with unlicensed chaplains, certain Texas lawmakers have launched a coordinated effort to force state-sponsored religion into our public schools,” Donatti added.
The Rev. Erin Walter, a Unitarian Universalist in Texas, also condemned Republican lawmakers for their theocratic legislation that violates the U.S. Constitution.
He said students would be harmed by being served by unqualified chaplains rather than licensed counselors.
Critics, who include some religious groups and Christian Democrats, fear the legislation could “allow “religious activists to recruit into schools and exacerbate tensions on local school boards.
The Texas Tribune newspaper noted that the bill could exacerbate the state’s adolescent mental health crisis by providing students with untested, inadequately monitored, and unscientific counseling services.