Texas public schools could soon have chaplains to help students deal with various life issues.
State lawmakers recently passed Senate Bill 763 which allows religious chaplains to work in a counseling role. The measure is now on Gov. Greg Abbott's desk awaiting approval.
Under the legislation, chaplains would have the ability to function as a mental health resource, help with suicide prevention and provide behavioral services for students in public schools across the Lone Star state.
The move comes as the number of kids struggling with mental health issues in America is exploding at a time when more school counselors are needed.
Author and pastor Dr. Ed Stetzer, of The Wheaton College Billy Graham Center, is familiar with the legislation and applauds the state's move.
"We're dealing with a generational struggle, coming out of Covid, the isolation, the political division, questions about who we are and where we're going as a people. That's putting a lot of stress and strain on the next generation," Stetzer told CBN News.
Part of that stress is because 2021 statistics show Texas schools on average had a ratio of only one counselor for every 392 students.
Opponents argue that chaplains in schools will be there to proselytize and promote a state-preferred religion, a claim that Stetzer says is not true.
"I think the issue here is what's the purpose of the chaplaincy? Is the purpose of the chaplaincy proselytization? And I think that's what's been picked up and people have spoken often with breathless tones in news stories," Stetzer explained.
"We want to make sure this is not something that is used inappropriately. We want to serve all people and also too this chaplaincy is open to people of all different kinds of faiths," he added.
While the chaplains do not require board certification like counselors or teachers, they must be endorsed by an organization recognized by the Defense Department, Federal Bureau of Prisons, or the Texas Department of Criminal Justice.
Jack Jenkins, a reporter with Religion News Service has been following the issue and says lawmakers against the measure see the lack of certification as problematic.
"There were efforts all along to try to amend the bill to say these chaplains would be trained and licensed in the same way that we find in the military. For instance, where they kind of train them to bar them from proselytization, and those efforts were ultimately defeated throughout the course of this bill which now allows school districts to hire unlicensed chaplains to these positions," Jenkins said during an interview with CBN's Faith Nation.
When asked how to prevent unlicensed chaplains from inadvertently harming students in crisis, Stetzer highlighted the importance of working with other trained professionals.
"I think thoughtful school districts need to work with inside that ecosystem with other counselors and professionals to say how can chaplains serve well, serve ethically," he responded.
Meanwhile, Jenkins has learned the bill is likely to face legal challenges.
"The ACLU of Texas has told me when I was reporting on this they are mulling a legal challenge and they said they are in conversation with other groups as well," said Jenkins. "So, I would be surprised if it's not the ACLU of Texas if at least one other group does file a challenge against this bill. It could be on a myriad of grounds that might include First Amendment issues."
Still, Stetzer is optimistic the measure will pass.
"Recent Supreme Court cases are allowing this to happen and will probably stand up to scrutiny if done well and if it doesn't favor one religion or the other,"