AUSTIN (KXAN) — Governor Greg Abbott signed Senate Bill 763 into law on Sunday, which will permit school districts to use school safety funding to hire chaplains or allow them to volunteer in public schools.

Sen. Mayes Middleton, R-Galveston

Sen. Mayes Middleton, R-Galveston, authored the bill, pitching it as a way to help public schools meet the need for “additional qualified individuals to counsel their students.”

“The bill will allow the important role chaplains serve for pastoral care and representing God’s presence within our public schools,” wrote Middleton on Twitter in April about his bill.

The law does not require chaplains to have any certification, unlike school counselors, who are required to hold a certification from the State Board for Educator Certification.

In order to counsel children in Texas public schools, a prospective counselor must:

  • Complete a state-approved Educator Preparation Program for school counseling;
  • Hold a master’s degree from an accredited institution; and,
  • Complete a test from the State Board for Educator Certification.

Previously, two years of classroom experience was also required; however, Middleton’s SB 798 eliminated that requirement.

SB 763 goes into effect Sept. 1. School districts and the governing bodies of open-enrollment charter schools are required to, before March 2024, hold a vote on if they will authorize school chaplains.

Opponents call law attack on religious liberties

On Facebook, Middleton wrote that he is proud that his bill will “expand religious liberties in our schools.” However, the Texas Freedom Network (TFN) disagreed with the Senator in a press release issued Tuesday.

“I am floored that our elected officials would so blatantly violate the separation of church and state by putting religious officials in our schools who lack the expertise to provide unbiased, adequate support for all Texas students,” said TFN Executive Director Val Benavidez, “This legislation could cause children and families from diverse and LGBTQIA+ communities immeasurable harm, and our kids deserve the support of trained counselors who are there to help them, not purport a religious agenda.”

The bill does not require chaplains to belong to a specific faith, such as Christianity, nor does it prohibit specific faiths, such as Satanism.

The ACLU of Texas also opposes the new law, with attorney David Donatti calling the replacement of licensed professionals a threat to student safety and education.

“The same Texas politicians trying to control what students think by banning books and censoring curricula now want to dictate what students worship,” Donatti said, “This bill is part of a coordinated campaign by conservative Christian-based organizations and their legislative champions to force state-sponsored religion into public schools without parental consent.”