There’s A Multistate Trend Of Public Schools Replacing Guidance Counselors With Pastors

Back to School. Male teacher in a classroom standing near chalk board.Fun fact about the United States: It doesn’t have an official religion! It is effectively Christian given how heavy a role the Christian right plays in policymaking, but there are some general protections meant to prevent the cross from being shoved down your throat. It isn’t like public schools are replacing student counselors with pastors or anything. That would look a lot like setting up the framework for state-compelled religion. According to the The Humanist, a growing number of states are doing just that:

[A]cross the United States, the push to install religious chaplains in public schools has been growing at an alarming pace.

As of today, legislatures in thirteen states, including Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Maryland, Mississippi, Missouri, Nebraska, Ohio, Oklahoma, and Utah have introduced bills to allow religious chaplains to serve as school counselors or volunteers in schools; Texas already has a law in place to allow chaplains in schools since it passed SB 763 in Summer 2023.

Back when Con Law professors weren’t crying over if the Supreme Court was going to regularly invalidate their syllabi, there was a common sense understanding that there was supposed to be a separation of church and state. We’re sending kids to school, not conversion camps after all.  But between the Supreme Court blessing Christian schools in Maine with state funding and a coach compelling prayer at the 50 yard line, the Establishment Clause stopped mattering. States now have free rein to turn counseling into confessionals. That is terrifying. In 13 states, stressed out students in public schools could be sent to a chaplain and met with this:

In case your immediate response was that being told to pray away anxiety is an unrealistic expectation because the counselor-clerics would have some other potentially secular training they could fall on, that isn’t required:

[T]he final language in Texas SB 763 says that “a chaplain employed or volunteering under this chapter is not required to be certified by the State Board for Educator Certification.” Chaplains who are hired to administer counseling to students in Texas schools under this law only need to satisfy a criminal background check.

Do you want youth pastors? Because at best, that’s how you get youth pastors. At worst, you’re institutionalizing potential threats to students’ mental well being:

Opponents of school chaplain bills point out that they could actually do more harm than good. In this Texas Tribune article from last year, Dr. Lindsay Bira, a psychologist and assistant professor of psychiatry at UT Health San Antonio who focuses on stress, trauma and anxiety said: “…a chaplain is not trained in how the brain works or what helps it work best. Someone with a religious background could push prayer or other strategies that increase shame.”

Part of the push for these changes is that there aren’t enough school counselors available for students. Wow, if only there were a recent movement in one of those states that pushed for funds to be diverted to meet the need for student counselors. Oh, that’s right, Maryland has been pushing for Counselors Not Cops for years now:

The lack of counselors is a completely foreseeable problem that results from budgeting choices. It is bad faith to throw up your hands and start sending in the clergy as if that’s the only realistic alternative. For years now, we’ve seen reports of police departments receiving millions of dollars in funding while teachers beg for pencils on their students’ behalf.

Unless the Supreme Court decides to add some teeth back to the Establishment Clause, you should expect to see Christianization efforts begin to ramp up. And if you’re an Atheist, Jew, Muslim, or any other flavor of non-Christian, good luck.

A Disturbing Trend: Pushing Religious Chaplains on Public Schools [The Humanist]

Earlier: So Long, Establishment Clause. What Now?
Does The Establishment Clause Mean Nothing To You People? I Know It Doesn’t To SCOTUS, But Come On


Chris Williams became a social media manager and assistant editor for Above the Law in June 2021. Prior to joining the staff, he moonlighted as a minor Memelord™ in the Facebook group Law School Memes for Edgy T14s.  He endured Missouri long enough to graduate from Washington University in St. Louis School of Law. He is a former boatbuilder who cannot swim, a published author on critical race theory, philosophy, and humor, and has a love for cycling that occasionally annoys his peers. You can reach him by email at cwilliams@abovethelaw.com and by tweet at @WritesForRent.


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