DeSantis signs bill allowing chaplains, patriotic organizations in Florida public schools

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis held a press conference at Tohopekaliga High School in Kissimmee on Thursday and signed two new bills regarding religious services and patriotic organization in public schools.

Patriotic organizations OK at Florida public schools

DeSantis signed HB 1317, which authorizes schools to bring in "patriotic organizations" to encourage student involvement. The organizations eligible for participation include, but are not limited to:

  • Big Brothers of America
  • Big Sisters of America
  • Boy Scouts
  • Boys and Girls Club
  • Civil Air Patrol
  • Future Farmers of America
  • Marine Corps League
  • Navy SEAL Cadet Corp

According to DeSantis, this bill is crucial because "not everyone knows what's out there in the community" and a student being involved in an extracurricular activity is "better than students going home and being on electronics." He stressed that the bill mandates parental notification before students are involved in any organization hosted by the school.


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Chaplains can offer counseling in Florida public schools

The second bill was HB 931, which establishes a statewide school chaplain program. This initiative permits districts to enlist chaplains to offer additional counseling and support to students. 

Schools participating in the program must list all clergy representatives on the district's website, and students seeking chaplain services must obtain written parental consent. He stated that this program is aimed at "students who need some soul crafting."

DeSantis acknowledged encountering criticism when introducing the chaplain bill, as it allows chaplains of various faiths and religions, sparking concerns about controversial groups, such as those who practice satanism gaining access to schools. he, however, made it clear there would not be problems of that nature.

"We're not playing those games in Florida. That's not a religion. We're going to be using common sense while handling this," he said. 

According to the News Service of Florida, DeSantis' chaplain bill has received opposition from the  American Civil Liberties Union.


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Last month, the ACLU shared a statement on its website that said it "vigorously" opposes efforts to bring chaplains into school, adding that the bill is an unconstitutional violation of the separation of church and state. 

"Allowing chaplains in public schools violates students’ and families’ right to religious freedom. And, because chaplains are typically not trained or certified to provide educational or counseling services to youth, students are likely to receive inadequate mental health support that, in some cases, may be harmful," the ACLU said. 

DeSantis said he expects the bill to be challenged in court. 


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"The question isn’t whether we’re going to go to court. I think they are going to go to court," DeSantis said. "But just think about what the ACLU is saying. This bill, when the chaplains come to campus, the parents have to consent for the student to receive services from there. So, this is purely voluntary. It’s not imposing anything that anyone doesn’t want."

Both laws go into effect July 1. 

He also shared an update about funding for mental health services in schools, mentioning that funding has doubled since he took office in 2019. This year's funding consists of $160 million dollars, plus an additional $5.5 million to help with mental health training for school faculty. DeSantis emphasized the significance of this funding and its ongoing impact.