The Texas House of Representatives approved a bill on Wednesday that would allow school districts to use security funds to hire uncertified chaplains.

The bill addresses a school counselor shortage that has hit the nation in recent years and would give schools more options to help with the U.S. mental health pandemic among teenagers.

“We have to give schools all the tools — with all we’re experiencing with mental health problems and other crises, this is just another tool,” said Rep. Cole Hefner, who is the House sponsor of the bill, per The Washington Post.

He also made it clear that schools could opt in or out of using chaplains, and even put “whatever rules and regulations in place that they see fit,” per The Texas Tribune.

Hefner emphasized that the bill was in no way about pressing religion.

Delays held the bill up last week, as a proposed amendment called for chaplains to be properly accredited before being able to counsel in schools — like they must be to work in prisons and in the U.S. military, but the amendment failed, reported the Tribune.

Opponents of the bill argue that it furthers the integration of church and state and worry that uncertified chaplains might not be equipped to offer valuable mental health care.

Related
Perspective: The dream of a religiously diverse democracy is ours to achieve

A local religious freedom group called The Texan Freedom Network released a statement condemning the bill for infringing upon the rights of students.

“This bill violates the religious freedom of all faiths and Texans of non-faith by placing chaplains in our schools who are not required to be certified educators or omit their personal religious beliefs when working with students,” said the organization’s senior political director, Carisa Lopez.

She expressed concerns about uncertified chaplains being capable to give “unbiased and adequate support for an LGBTQIA+ student, someone grappling with reproductive health decisions, or a student who may struggle with suicidal ideation or self-harm.”

Several other bills looking to integrate religion into public schools were introduced for review this session in Texas including a bill that proposed to post the Ten Commandments in a visible place in each public classroom, as reported by The New York Times.

While that bill failed because of religious concerns, Matt Krause who is a former Texas state representative and current lawyer at a conservative legal nonprofit that focuses on freedom of religion, told the Times that the “law has undergone a massive shift” with the case last year about a praying high school football coach named Joe Kennedy.

“It’s not too much to say that the Kennedy case, for religious liberty, was much like the Dobbs case was for the pro-life movement,” he said.

Related
A praying football coach makes his case
This coach was just suspended for a racially insensitive comment. He says he was quoting scripture