Florida public schools could allow chaplains under bill going to DeSantis

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TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (AP) — Florida school districts could opt 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 the legislation will provide another 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’s in session and there’s a non-denominational chapel in the state Capitol.

“It does surprise me about the controversy because we have had chaplains in our public institutions for centuries,” said Republican Erin Grall, who sponsored the bill. “I just get frustrated when we talk about that we should exclude all religions in school.”

But opponents said children could receive bad or unwanted spiritual advice or feel uncomfortable because they may not share the same religious beliefs.

The only requirements of a chaplain participating in a school program would be a background check and having their name and religious affiliation listed on the school website. The chaplains would “provide support, services, and programs to students as assigned by the district school board,” the bill reads.

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

Still, opponents said there’s no place for chaplains in schools, especially when there’s no requirement that they be trained in psychology or to work with children.

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