Utah House votes to allow chaplains in public schools, draws response from Satanic Temple


The Utah House of Representatives has voted in favor of a bill that, if enacted, will allow school districts to approve chaplains for counseling purposes in public schools, which the Satanic Temple argues should open the door for "ministers of Satan." 

The Utah House voted 56-13 last Friday to pass House Bill 514, which would permit local education agencies to allow chaplains into public schools, provided they meet specific standards. The bill has been sent to the state Senate for a vote. 

Republican Rep. Keven Stratton of Orem sponsored the bill, arguing on the House floor that the legislation "is meant to be a very grassroots-driven opportunity" for school districts.

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Stratton referenced the history of government acknowledgment of religion in the United States, including the national motto "In God We Trust" and "Under God" being in the Pledge of Allegiance.

Stratton claimed that including chaplains in public schools would create a resource to help with students' mental health and that the chaplains would be "nondenominational and fair to all."

Democratic Rep. Andrew Stoddard of Sandy stated during a floor debate that he had "significant concerns," such as the measure possibly violating the state's ban on using public money for religious exercise.

"What we're doing here is putting [school districts] in an extremely precarious position without providing anything to back them up," Stoddard said, as quoted by The Standard-Examiner, adding that "they'll have to defend themselves in court in a lawsuit they're likely going to lose."

Rachel Chambliss, executive director of operations for The Satanic Temple, has argued that the bill could "create an unprecedented opportunity for our ministers of Satan to have a permanent presence in Utah's public schools."

"While I would strongly prefer that Utah and other states do not enact bills that mingle religion with state functions, I can personally attest to the fact that The Satanic Temple — committed to the principles of equal religious representation and community service — is ready to embrace this new potential role within Utah's communities," stated Chambliss, as quoted by The Standard-Examiner.

"I'm enthusiastic about the possibility of our Satanic clergy contributing to the educational and emotional development of Utah's youth … and I know that our ministers of Satan are eager to take an active role in enriching Utah's educational landscape."

In recent years, some states have considered allowing religious chaplains into public schools, primarily to help counsel children at a time when many argue the United States is dealing with a mental health crisis.

Last year, Texas passed Senate Bill 763, with some independent school districts in the Lone Star State voting to allow chaplains in under certain requirements and restrictions.

During a board meeting for the Keller ISD of Texas, trustee Sandi Walker, a mother of six and a youth leader in her local church, defended the idea that chaplains should be in public schools.

"Why chaplains? Well, students are hurting. This should not shock anyone. ... School counselors and chaplains do not compete with one another. Allowing volunteer chaplains is another touch point in providing crucial services to a student or a staff member in need," she argued.

"If it is OK for a chaplain to go into a school after a tragedy occurred, it should be OK for that same chaplain to go into a school before an event happens," Walker added.

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