PJI Facilitates Historic Chaplaincy Bill Win

Austin, TX – The Texas legislature has passed a bill supported by Pacific Justice Institute (PJI) that will allow the state’s public schools to hire chaplains in addition to school counselors. In the face of a shortage of qualified mental health professionals working in the schools, the bill will support school safety and help stem youth violence, teen suicide, and other concerning issues.

SB763 was passed by both the State Senate and the House of Representatives. Its sponsors were motivated by the need for individuals qualified to counsel students and the availability of chaplains who are already trained to provide this essential service. Though the bill does not require chaplains to be certified by the State Board of Educator Certification, those who serve in the role would need to be endorsed by an organization recognized by the U.S. Defense Department, the Federal Bureau of Prisons, or the Texas Department of Criminal Justice. They will also be subject to background checks.

SB763 was supported by Texas Values Action and the National School Chaplain Association (NSCA), as well as by Pacific Justice Institute. On April 5th, PJI President Brad Dacus testified before the Senate Committee on Education to explain the legal precedent allowing chaplains to serve in this capacity in other settings and his belief that the practice is constitutionally sound and that it would be upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court if challenged.

Speaking to concerns voiced by the bill’s opponents, Rocky Malloy, head of the NSCA, said, “Chaplains operate within an individual’s belief and convictions – they are not working to convert people to religion.” Also, Rocky stated, “Mr. Dacus, from Pacific Justice Institute, was an expert witness and key figure in getting this bill passed.”

Expressing appreciation on behalf of District 7 of the Texas State Board of Education of PJI’s role in the bill’s passage, Julie Pickren said, “Texas must build a strong foundation for us to lead the nation in education, and an important part of the foundation is the spiritual care of our teachers and students. I am grateful for the wisdom, knowledge, and prayers that Brad Dacus and the Pacific Justice Institute team provided throughout the incredible journey of passing the first School Chaplain Bill in America. Texas families and education will benefit from the contributions of Pacific Justice Institute in this landmark legislation.”

Pacific Justice Institute’s mission includes providing the legal resources needed to support religious freedom in education and other settings. Speaking of his role in the passing of SB763, Brad Dacus said, “It was a privilege to work with Julie. I look forward to a continuing partnership in making education better in the state of Texas now and in the future.”

The bill, which is expected to be signed by Governor Gregg Abbott, will go into effect in September of 2023 for the 2023/2024 school year.

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