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Groups sound alarm over Treasure Coast lawmaker's 'Chaplains in Schools' bill

'These predators are looking for opportunities to get into the school system and this is an opportunity,' Sen. Lori Berman says
Posted at 6:17 PM, May 03, 2024

FORT PIERCE, Fla. — A recently signed bill to put chaplains in public schools, which a Treasure Coast lawmaker sponsored, is sparking concerns.

Gov. Ron DeSantis signed HB 931 this month allowing public school districts to let volunteer religious chaplains on campus to provide support services and programs for students.

It's now garnering controversy from groups on both sides of the aisle about its impact on First Amendment rights and student safety.

"They're going to be proselytizing in our schools," state Sen. Lori Berman, D-Boynton Beach, said.

State Sen. Lori Berman, D-Boynton Beach, explains her concerns regarding the new law.
State Sen. Lori Berman, D-Boynton Beach, explains her concerns regarding the new law.

Berman isn't the only one sounding the alarm over the legislation, which was sponsored by Sen. Erin Grall, a Republican who represents Indian River, St. Lucie and Okeechobee counties.

In a letter, the American Civil Liberties Union of Florida also condemned the bill as an "unconstitutional effort to impose religion on public school students."

Berman agreed but said one of her main concerns is that the bill doesn't require training, certification or proof of religious affiliation for volunteer chaplains.

"All you have to have is a fingerprint check," Berman said. "I worry that these people will be adversely affecting our children psychologically because who knows what kind of information they're going to be telling the children? And their parents aren't there."

Berman also said she worried the bill would open up the door for unvetted child predators.

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"Somebody who is a predator could say, 'I'm a member of this church, and I want to come in,' and unfortunately get access to children," Berman said.

Some conservative groups, like Moms for Liberty of Indian River County (M4LIRC), have supported the bill so long as parents get a say in who their child speaks to.

"I think it will be a positive thing for us to have more people to help children," Jennifer Pippin, spokeswoman for M4LIRC, said.

Now, The Satanic Temple said they want ministers on campus too, and some folks, who were originally in support of the legislation, are switching sides.

"That makes me want to think, maybe we should just keep all of it out," Cheyenne Bingham, a conservative mom from Fort Pierce, said. "I know I just completely flip-flopped and reversed, but that way you know matter what religion you are you don't have to worry about any influence of a different religion."

Cheyenne Bingham discusses why she is now having reservations about the new law.
Cheyenne Bingham discusses why she is now having reservations about the new law.

DeSantis, in response to The Satanic Temple's request to put ministers in schools, said in a news conference he's not going to let that happen, telling reporters the organization is "not an actual religion."

WPTV looked up the organization on the IRS's website and found it is a tax-exempt organization.

Lucien Greaves, co-founder and spokesperson for The Satanic Temple, said they plan to sue if not allowed on school grounds, releasing the following statement, reading in part:

"We will put Satanic chaplains in Florida schools. Ron DeSantis has done nothing to stop us, and he can do nothing to stop us, being that he signed the very bill into law that invites us into schools. When Florida schools have Satanist chaplains, we will make sure to remind everybody that it is because Ron DeSantis does not understand his job that we were invited to act as chaplains in their school districts to begin with."

Berman said the temple has every right.

"We absolutely asked those questions of the bill's sponsor, and she said there is nothing that can be done to limit any religion," Berman said. "I'm very hopeful Palm Beach County won't implement it because it is a voluntary program."

WPTV contacted all five of our school districts to see if they'll implement the chaplain program.

So far, only the Martin County School District has gotten back to us and said no definitive decision has been made on it yet.

A spokesperson told WPTV that if the board desires it they will work with their legal counsel to see how this would work in county schools.

WPTV also contacted Grall multiple times and in multiple ways to address concern over the bill but she hasn't gotten back to us.