Florida public schools could make use of chaplains under bill going to DeSantis

TALAHASSEE, Fla. — School districts in Florida could choose to allow volunteer chaplains in schools under a bill the Legislature sent to Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis over the objections of opponents who argued that religion should be kept out of schools.

Supporters argued that the legislation will provide an additional resource for children and pointed to chaplains who serve in other government roles, such as police or military chaplains. The legislature also hosts a chaplain of the day when it meets, and there is a non-denominational chapel in the Capitol.

“I’m surprised by the controversy because we’ve had chaplains in our public institutions for centuries,” said Republican Erin Grall, who sponsored the bill. “I just get frustrated when we talk about excluding all religions from schools.”

But opponents say children may receive bad or unwanted spiritual advice or be made to feel uncomfortable because they may not share the same religious beliefs.

The only requirements for a chaplain participating in a school program are to complete a background check and list their name and religious affiliation on the school’s website. The chaplains would “provide support, services and programs to students as assigned by the district school board,” according to the bill.

Schools would have to publish the names and religions of chaplains chosen to participate in the program online, and parents would have to give permission before children could meet them.

Still, opponents say there is no place for chaplains in schools, especially when there is no requirement that they have a psychology degree or work with children.

“The moment you try to impose your religion on other people, that’s when it becomes a problem, and as a member of a minority religion I feel that every day and it makes me so uncomfortable,” said Democratic Senator Tina Polsky, who is Jewish . “For me, religion is something you do with your family after school.”