Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Florida Will Open Schools to Volunteer Chaplains and Civic Organizations

A crucifix on a book against the background of a written school board
GieZetStudio -
A crucifix on a book against the background of a written school board

Florida - Friday April 19, 2024: Florida school districts will soon have the option of allowing volunteer chaplains to counsel students at their schools under a bill signed Thursday by Republican Governor Ron DeSantis. House Bill 1317 establishes a statewide school chaplain program.

The only requirements for a chaplain to participate would be passing a background check and having their name and religious affiliation listed on the school website. The law takes effect July 1.

Under the new law, House Bill 931, chaplains would be allowed to provide support, services, and programs to students as assigned by the district school board. Governor DeSantis stressed that the program is voluntary. Schools don't have to have a chaplain and students don't have to work with them. Parental permission would be required if they do.

“No one’s being forced to do anything, but to exclude religious groups from campus, that is discrimination," DeSantis said. “You’re basically saying that God has no place. That’s wrong.”

Florida is among more than a dozen states that have sought to create school chaplain programs. Texas became the first under a law passed in 2023.

Supporters in Florida argued the legislation will provide another resource for children and pointed out that chaplains already serve in other government roles by working with police and serving in the military. The Legislature itself hosts a chaplain of the day when it’s in session and there’s a non-denominational chapel in the state Capitol.

Opponents cite several problems with the new Florida law, including there being no training requirements for chaplains. They also fear that some students might be ostracized if they are atheist or belong to a non-Christian religion in a Christian majority district.

“When you have a military chaplain, they go through intensive training and they have to be in a position where they can provide information which is factually correct and appropriate to the situation,” said Democratic Sen. Lori Berman of Palm Beach County.

Without that training, a chaplain could provide psychologically damaging counseling, Berman said. She suggested schools add more social workers, guidance counselors or psychologists if they need them.

“Let's put the trained professionals in and not some unlicensed, untrained people with a religious affiliation,” Berman said.

Also, at the signing ceremony in Kissimmee yesterday the Governor signed House Bill 1317 which authorizes school districts to allow civic and patriotic organizations to visit schools and encourage students to participate in their organizations.

HB 1317 authorizes districts to allow civic and patriotic organizations to visit schools to encourage student participation and involvement.

These organizations include:

• Big Brothers Big Sisters of America
• The Boy Scouts of America
• The Boys & Girls Clubs of America
• The Civil Air Patrol
• Future Farmers of America
• The Girl Scouts of the United States of America
• Little League Baseball
• The Marine Corps League
• The Navy Seal Cadet Corps