Voices: School chaplain law sneaks in partisan ploy

In August 2023, I joined more than 100 other Texas professional chaplains in signing a letter opposing a law that would use school safety funds to employ chaplains.

We saw multiple oddities in the claims, and I say this as a conservative evangelical Baptist.

Led by the Baptist Joint Committee with the Interfaith Alliance and Texas Impact, we concurred: “Because of our training and experience, we know that chaplains are not a replacement for school counselors or safety measures in our public schools, and we urge you to reject this flawed policy option: It is harmful to our public schools and the students and families they serve.”

No need for the law

I ask, what is the need?

I question the leader who believes chaplains solve all the schools’ problems, seemingly implying there are no honest, healthy, good-hearted teachers or administrators who truly care about their students.

The letter broached parental consent, which to me cancels the need for such a law, and I add children have no need for school religious instruction that ought to be homegrown. Schools should have no say, no favor, no disfavor and truly be neutral to a student’s religion fostered best from home.

Prison, military and hospital chaplains facilitate the religion of those with limited free-world access. The school is not any of those, because the child goes home every day.

Respect of faith

I have defended “respect of faith” to great lengths in several books, because state government favor of one faith actually assaults the authenticity of the very faith favored.

Need? The hidden reason for the law, I believe, is to employ chaplains to dominate children with evangelical faith while lying about neutrality. While few admit that, some are bold, often in reprisal to some radical left that wants to prohibit free exercise of faith.

Religion has been used for political purposes for millennia, and that will continue as long as someone can get a vote or make money. That civil reality will not be changed with the exposure of shysters. That is also the civil reality for faithful Christians, Catholics, Jews, Muslims—name your faith—who supremely value “their religion” to high heaven.

Provisions of the bill

The Texas legislature passed Senate Bill 763 last September requiring all schools to vote on the hiring of chaplains. The House version requiring military qualifications failed in conference. Sen. Mayes Middleton (R-Beaumont) authored for the Senate with four co-sponsors, and Rep. Cole Hefner (R-Mount Pleasant) for the House, with six co-sponsors. All were white Republicans, with one woman, and all likely evangelicals.

The SB 763 modified the Texas Education Code, adding Chapter 23—three tiny paragraphs—saying a school district “may employ … a chaplain to provide support … for students” and “may not employ or accept” a registered “sex offender.” The chaplain is not “required to be certified.”

The prohibition implied some school district might consider such. Yet with that, why did they leave out military specs and a prohibition on proselytizing?

Oddities around the bill

Oddity one: Other elements of SB 763 as introduced add “including chaplains” next to “mental health personnel” and “behavioral health services.” Prima facia, they encoded use of safety funds to hire a noncertified anybody next to mental health professionals? That’s odd.

Oddity two: In August 2023, I emailed the bill’s legislators about history. Who lobbied most? One co-sponsor answered, referring me to the author.

Oddity three: National School Chaplain Association founder and CEO Rocky Malloy was the qualification-neutered bill’s champion, yet his research is top secret. In a video I no longer can locate, Malloy mentioned a “study” where no one in the school could name most of the children, then claimed his chaplains could. They could not share the study or school’s name for the kid’s sake. Integrity floundered.

Oddity four: I asked for the NSCA’s Form 990s and got the 990s for Mission Generation. So, the finances for Malloy’s subsidiary nonprofit are also top secret.

Oddity five: The NSCA website claimed it is “the state of Texas’ preferred provider for training and certification of school chaplains,” which text has been removed from the site, perhaps because of the publication of this article and the myriad of others preceding this that decried the absence of basic qualifications. Or maybe, simply trying to address the letter we Texas chaplains signed, the text was removed.

Looking closer, they were “proud to partner with Oral Roberts University” in Oklahoma. That certification webpage later was revised to “proud to collaborate with” and added “a minimum of a two-year degree and 2,000 hours of experience” to qualify for their eight-week course, perhaps because the letter mentioned at the start forced a look at qualifications, something not taken seriously in Austin.

Oh my. Tell me that “8-week” course was not the reason our legislators excluded military specs. Whether Malloy hid that in Austin or not, he does think eight weeks is sufficient. For $2,799, the whole tiny shebang includes the required courses of “Active Shooter, Threat Assessment, and Stop the Bleed.” Complete the course, and ta-da, you have NSCA certification.

Oddity six: Malloy’s own words might be the scariest. His website advertises “chaplains” solving all school ills, implying all schools are gravely ill and need his chaplain-saviors to fix teachers and prevent student suicide.

In May 2023, Robert Downen and Brian Lopez reported for the Texas Tribune that Malloy argued, “Chaplains in schools could prevent youth violence, teen suicide and teacher burnout.”

Rejecting proselytizing concerns: “Chaplains ‘are not working to convert people to religion,’ Malloy … told the Senate Committee on Education. ‘Chaplains have no other agenda other than to be present in relationships, care for individuals and to make sure everybody on campus is seen and heard,’” Downen and Lopez reported.

Downen and Lopez noted how Malloy led Mission Generation chaplains to evangelize for decades and recently changed his website to redirect to NSCA.

Professional chaplains sigh at Malloy’s naïve blather, despising his hijacking “chaplain” for a ghostly “counselor” specter without religion, or hiding religion or religious ghosting. I see lying about neutrality to sneak evangelical preaching into public schools, with the above oddities then Malloy’s whole blather becomes a sick model for children.

Michael Maness retired after 20 years as a Texas prison chaplain and is the author of several books, including How We Saved Texas Prison Chaplains 2011 and When Texas Prison Scams Religion. This article is republished by permission from PreciousHeart.net and Tyler County Booster and revised. The views expressed are those of the author.