RAC-TX and Interfaith Partners Lead Successful Pushback to School Chaplain Bill

February 29, 2024, Austin, TX - For the past six months, RAC-TX has worked in partnership with Jewish, Christian, Muslim and other interfaith groups to advocate for Texas school boards to vote against the creation of school chaplain programs (as mandated by SB 763). Today, Emily Bourgeois, the organizer for RAC-TX, joined the coalition leaders gathered outside the capitol building in Austin to celebrate the large number of Texas school districts that chose not to create those problematic school chaplain programs, and to warn and give guidance to religious communities in states that are now considering similar proposals.

The coalition, which included Texas Impact, BJC (Baptist Joint Committee for Religious Liberty), Interfaith Alliance and the Anti-Defamation League, worked in partnership to overturn the problematic program in the 25 largest school districts in the state. RAC-TX also concentrated its efforts in the 10 districts with the highest Jewish populations, which all rejected the proposal as well.

This dangerous policy, that advances Christian nationalism and puts thousands of children at risk, is now being considered by other state legislatures in Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Iowa, Indiana, Kansas, Maryland, Missouri, Mississippi, Nebraska, Ohio, Oklahoma and Utah. The RAC will continue to advocate against these misguided proposals and to support religious communities that could be affected.

Emily Bourgeois's remarks can be read below and by watching the press conference video:

"Good morning, my name is Emily Bourgeois and I am the organizer for the Religious Action Center of Texas at the Union for Reform Judaism. I'm honored to be here alongside our allies in this fight against the chaplain bill.

I want to use my time today to speak about the Jewish communities that played an integral part in the fight against this bill. Our community has a particularly high stake in this situation: we believe that a core tenet of democracy and one that has allowed the Jewish Community to flourish in the United States is the separation of church and state. As a religious minority, we are well aware of what it feels like to be the "other".This is a feeling that too often is shared between the Jewish community and the Muslim Community and the Sikh community in the Hindu community in all of our school districts across Texas. We know the chaplains being put into schools in this legislation are not reflective of our community. And we know that the backers of this bill rejected protections against attempts to convert our children to Christianity that. At the beginning of this fight, we knew that this policy- if it were to be implemented-would be an existential threat to the Jewish Community here in Texas. In the name of liberty and justice for all, our Jewish communities across Texas worked together and took this fight directly to the school districts.

I am proud to be here today representing the Union for Reform Judaism, the largest denomination of Jewish communities in North America, and our 37 Texas synagogues. but I would be remiss not to recognize the contributions of all of the Jewish groups that were involved in organizing against this policy: Our partners who you will hear from later today at the ADL, but also the Jewish Federations of Dallas, Tarrant County and Fort Worth, Houston, and San Antonio, the Women of Reform Judaism, as well as the National Council of Jewish Women, in our allies at Keshet and Sojourn who work tirelessly on behalf of the students who are part of both the Jewish and LGBT communities, who feel the effects of this legislation on dual fronts. Now, as I rattled off those names, it should be apparent to y'all that the Jewish community coalesced against this policy in a really unprecedented way. We are taught in our tradition that it is our responsibility as a collective to teach our values to our children. By protecting our children from proselytization today in the state of Texas, we are fulfilling those Commandments and are ensuring that the only people who will have a say in our children's religious education are the parents, clergy, and Jewish educators who lead our community and work tirelessly every day to instill our values in these kids. I'm standing here today on behalf of the hundreds of Jewish clergy and lay leaders from across the state who came together over the last 6 months to advocate for our children- many of them showing up to their school boards for the first time. It is because of them that we are here today. It is because of them that we won.

The Jewish community worked alongside the Interfaith allies who are here today because we know that we are stronger together. When we raise our voices as one Community of Faith, here in Texas, we win. Let this be a lesson to all of the states where this battle is still in front of them: when we raise our voices together against the spread of this policy across the country, we will win. And if we can win in Texas, we can win anywhere."