(RNS) — On Wednesday afternoon (May 24), Texas state Rep. James Talarico approached the microphone on the House floor with a stack of papers in hand. It was time for the final vote on a bill that would allow public schools in the state to hire their own unlicensed chaplains. It was largely ceremonial, but Talarico, a vocal critic of the bill, still had a few questions.Looking down at his notes, he asked Rep. Cole Hefner, the chief champion of the bill in the House, if the head of the National School Chaplains Association had worked on the proposal that has drawn controversy and national attention.
“They provided some input,” Hefner offered.
It was an understated acknowledgment of a coalition that shepherded the chaplains bill through the Texas Legislature. Whereas two other bills introduced this session that involved religion and public schools — one that dealt with school prayer and another requiring classrooms to hang donated Ten Commandments signs — never made it across the finish line, the chaplains bill was carried by an alliance of right-wing activists, Christian groups and conservative lawmakers who have aided each other’s rise while championing forms of Christian nationalism.
Texas state Rep. James Talarico speaks on the floor of the Texas House of Representatives on May 24, 2021, in Austin. Submitted photo
Their victory points to the ascendant power of the ideology in red states, where legislators are lining up behind bills involving religion, including opposition to LGBTQ rights, that critics say only reflect a specific Christian vision for society.
The lawmaker most associated with the Texas chaplains bill is Sen. Mayes Middleton, a former Texas House member serving his first term …
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