TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (AP) — Florida school districts could opt to allow volunteer chaplains in schools under a bill approved Tuesday by a Senate committee.
Supporters of the legislation said it will provide another resource for children during tumultuous times, while opponents said there could be consequences ranging from children receiving bad or unwanted spiritual advice to white Christian nationalists using the program to indoctrinate students.
“I view this as an alternative to mental health counselors. I see this is an alternative for families,” said the bill’s sponsor, Republican Sen. Erin Grall. She dismissed the argument that chaplains could give students bad advice. “What happens when our children receive the wrong advice from a mental health counselor?”
The only requirements of a chaplain participating in a school program would be a background check and having their name and religious affiliation listed on the school website. The chaplains would “provide support, services, and programs to students as assigned by the district school board,” the bill reads.
A similar House bill is ready to be considered by the full chamber. The Senate bill has one more committee stop.
Democratic Sen. Rosalind Osgood — who has a master’s degree in divinity, is a former Broward County school board member and served as a chaplain for the Fort Lauderdale Police Department — voted against the bill. She said the idea could create division among parents fighting for or against the policy when education should be the priority.
“It puts school districts in a position that takes their attention away from education,” she said. “Now the school board is focused on chaplaincy instead of education.”
And she warned about the widely different interpretations of religious beliefs even among Christians, such as some Baptist organizations that don’t approve of women being pastors and people who use religion divisively instead of accepting all people.