The Indiana legislature is currently pushing through legislation to allow public and charter schools to establish chaplains’ offices by hiring or recruiting volunteer “school chaplains.”

The idea started off as Senate Bill 50 and passed the Senate. However, once it was clear that the House was not going to take up the bill, the language was shoehorned into House Bill 1137 in a Senate Education and Career Development Committee hearing. At one time, procedural shenanigans of this sort were generally frowned upon but in today’s “anything goes” General Assembly, it breathed new life into the concept.

The ACLU of Indiana opposes the bill because it positions religious leaders – and only religious leaders – as an additional resource for students in violation of the First Amendment’s anti-establishment clause.

Legislators supporting HB 1137 claim the purpose of the bill is to help fill in for overworked and understaffed licensed school counselors. Providing additional support to students is important, but Indiana can do so without violating the constitution. The First Amendment doesn’t allow government entities to prefer religion over non-religion or favor one faith over others. Also, specific to the public-school setting, the U.S. Supreme Court has urged vigilance about possible religious coercion of students. HB 1137 outlines a program that will most likely require schools to violate all three of these principles.