Iowa Republicans want public schools to hire untrained Christian chaplains
"This bill is about ministers in the workplace," admitted GOP State Rep. Helena Hayes
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Republicans in Iowa have advanced a bill to bring untrained chaplains to public schools in an effort to shove Christianity where it doesn’t belong. And if this sounds familiar, it’s because Texas already beat them to it.
In Texas, the law now allows schools to bring in local pastors who have no formal certification to work with children while dismissing the experts who are actually trained to help kids. Nothing in the bill prohibits chaplains from proselytizing to students. Nothing requires chaplains from one faith to serve students from a different religious background.
It’s such a disastrous plan that, last August, more than 100 Texas chaplains signed a letter urging school boards not to replace trained social workers with religious alternatives.
Yet for some reason, Iowa Republicans believe this is the best path forward.
The two bills—Senate Study Bill 3092 and House File 2073—would allow school boards to hire volunteer chaplains “to provide support, services, and programs for students.” Those chaplains don’t need any kind of license or endorsement. If they pass a background check, they can literally walk into school with a shirt that says “chaplain” on it and have access to kids.
The effect, of course, is that the people who are trained to provide support in these areas could see their roles in jeopardy as districts choose to replace hired professionals with volunteer nobodies.
The Christians backing this bill, Reps. Helena Hayes and Barb Kniff McCulla, fully admit they’re taking a page from Texas after attending an event with right-wing lobbyist Chuck Hurley.
As the Iowa Starting Line points out, Hayes even made a Freudian slip when pushing for the bill’s passage when she used the word “minister,” a Christian term, to describe who could be hired—something that was quickly jumped on by Democratic Sen. Sarah Trone Garriott (who happens to be a minister and former chaplain):
“This bill is about ministers in the workplace,” Hayes said before recapping the bill. “So I know some here are going to want to challenge what a chaplain is, how that’s defined, and whether or not it’s allowed in public schools.
“The author of this bill referred to the practitioners in this bill as ‘ministers’, which is specifically a Christian and protestant Christian term,” Trone Garriott said. “It seems to be the intent of this bill is to use the resources and institutions of the state to promote a particular religious community or religious content during the required hours of our children’s education.
“That is a violation of that child and their parents’ rights to choose, but it is also a violation of protections within the US Constitution,” she continued.
If there’s anything that could prevent this bill from becoming law, it won’t be the well-being of students, which Iowa Republicans clearly don’t care about. Instead, it might be the fact that some non-Christian groups would do everything in their power to jump on the opportunity.
That includes The Satanic Temple, as one lobbyist, Keenan Crow, highlighted:
“Guess who has a very robust chaplain program? The Satanic Temple does,” Crow said. “And guess who’s been using it in a number of different ways, including at the US Naval Academy? The Satanic Temple has.
“So if we want Satanic Temple chaplains in our schools, this is the way to get them,” they continued.
Even though Satanic and Humanist chaplains exist, church/state separation groups have repeatedly acknowledged the importance of having trained counselors and social workers in public schools instead of religious substitutes.
That said, I asked The Satanic Temple if they would take advantage of the opportunity if this bill passed. Co-founder Lucien Greaves gave me a straightforward response: “We are interested!”
Maybe that makes the sponsors think twice. Most likely, though, it won’t change anything. This bill would harm students far more than it will help them. But when you’re a Christian Nationalist, that’s the game plan. Anything is acceptable as long as it means more Jesus in the schools.