Helpful Information for Texas School Districts Considering Chaplaincy Programs

December 22, 2023
TX Schools Consider Chaplains | First Liberty Institute

by Jorge Gomez • 6 min read

In June, Texas Governor Greg Abbott signed Senate Bill 763. The new law gives public school districts an option to choose whether they want chaplains to serve as counselors in their schools. Districts have until March 1, 2024 to vote on whether to adopt a chaplaincy policy.

This law is just one of many examples of the seismic and positive change that’s happening thanks to First Liberty’s landmark U.S. Supreme Court victories in recent years. Because of the wins in our Coach Kennedy and Treat Children Fairly cases, we’re witnessing a major resurgence for religious liberty in America’s schools.

Our legal experts put together a helpful resource for school districts across the Lone Star state that are considering chaplains to support their students. We formulated a model chaplaincy policy to guide districts in developing policies that serve students well and comply with the Constitution.

You can download that model policy here.

We encourage school districts in Texas to consider putting in place a chaplaincy policy. These chaplaincy programs provide crucial support services, recognizing that many students and school personnel value the opportunity to seek support that is provided from a religious perspective.

Some school districts and leaders, nonetheless, worry or are hesitant about chaplaincy programs potentially violating the Constitution. Rest assured, these programs are perfectly constitutional and compliant with the law.

As our legal experts explain, government chaplaincy programs have a long history, and courts consistently uphold them in a wide variety of circumstances, including the military, prisons, hospitals and legislative bodies.

The Supreme Court repeatedly explains that the First Amendment’s Establishment Clause does not “‘compel the government to purge from the public sphere’ anything an objective observer could reasonably infer endorses or ‘partakes of the religious.’” Last year, in Kennedy v. Bremerton School District, the Supreme Court overruled a 50-year precedent which incorrectly held that government action that lacks a secular purpose, advances religion, or entangles the government with religion violated the Establishment Clause.

Of course, schools may not coerce students to engage in religious exercise. Therefore, chaplain services should be strictly voluntary for students to use. Nonetheless, we should point out that in Kennedy, the Supreme Court rejected the notion that the mere presence of religious activity is somehow coercive. Instead, the Court found no coercion “where there is no evidence anyone sought to persuade or force students to participate.”

First Liberty, Texans for Excellence in Education and the National School Chaplains Association are partnering to provide support for school districts. In addition to the model policy, here are answers to some Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) about chaplaincy programs.

Does my school have to hire a chaplain if we adopt these policies?

No, your school is not obligated to hire a chaplain if you adopt these policies. However, your school district would have policy in place should your needs ever shift and chaplains were needed. Adoption of these policies do not obligate the school to implement a chaplaincy program or to employ chaplains.

These policies do not reflect the precise direction my school would like to proceed. What can I do?

TEE and First Liberty are happy to meet with your team to construct customized, reliable, and trusted policy that meets the needs of your local context and expectation. Give us a call!

Do we have to pay chaplains?

We have provided two options in the model chaplain policy to cover paid and volunteer chaplains. SB763 does not require payment but allows for it based on the needs and resources of the school. There are a variety of funding options including new Chapter 23 allotments and modifications made to other allotments to pay chaplains should a school enact a paid chaplaincy program.

Should chaplains be subject to additional requirements such as the same certification and ongoing training requirements as traditional school counselors?

This is a local decision that is not addressed or required by SB763. School board trustees can choose to enhance the model policy to include additional employment and ongoing training requirements of the chaplain role. TEE and First Liberty can assist in drafting enhanced policy to satisfy local expectations.

If we adopt a chaplain policy, how do we guarantee that we will only have chaplains that represent the unique faiths, values, and expectations of our community?

As in any employment decision, you have local control to hire according to your local policies and community expectations. Chaplain selection should reflect the expectations of the local community.

First Liberty and TEE stands ready to support school districts, administrators and leaders when making policy decisions related to SB763. Please do not hesitate to contact TEE online at You can also submit a free request for legal help with First Liberty and request legal consultation if you need additional help with your district’s unique situation.

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