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Meet the Activists Who Spearheaded the Texas Chaplains Bill

Pickren, for her part, has called on voters to elect Christians.

“It’s so important to elect conservatives and Christians to our local school board races so that they can pass policy that will protect (the) children in each school district,” she said in an interview conducted earlier this month on the far-right Brighteon network.

In that same interview, Pickren noted that during her time as a local school board trustee, she created a “Superintendent’s Pastoral Team” that invited pastors and youth pastors to volunteer at schools, which she insisted lessened violence and drug use. When she began running for the State Board of Education, she said, she prayed for a way to replicate the local program at the state level.

According to Pickren, the answer to those prayers came via a call from a staffer who worked for U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz: The staffer put her in touch with the leaders of Mission Generation, a Christian mission organization specializing in placing school chaplains around the world.

Pickren would go on to serve on the board of the National School Chaplain Association, a project of Mission Generation. The group — which, according to The Texas Tribune, is run by former drug smuggling pirate Rocky Malloy — has openly expressed a desire to “influence those in education until the saving grace of Jesus becomes well-known, and students develop a personal relationship with Him.”

Pickren, too, has spoken of the group’s religious intentions during a Mission Generation event last year. In a video posted to the group’s Instagram page, she encouraged attendees to donate to Mission Generation because “there are children who need chaplains,” explaining there is “a whole generation of children that have never stepped foot one day inside of a church.”

Six months later, when Middleton introduced the chaplains bill to the state Senate, Malloy of Mission Generation was among those who testified in support. So, too, was Pickren, who appeared to indicate personal involvement in authoring the chaplains bill: When discussing funding aspects of the proposal, she said it drew from a subset of government funds “because I did not feel, in talking with Sen. Middleton, that we needed to affect academic counseling budget.” 

Two days earlier, Pickren had tweeted a photo of herself and Malloy with Pastor Rafael Cruz, Sen. Ted Cruz’s father, saying the trio were “discussing the importance of school chaplains.” But neither Malloy nor Pickren mentioned their group’s evangelism-minded goals during their testimonies before the Senate committee, with Malloy insisting chaplains “are not working to convert people to religion.”

As the bill — which was also supported by Texas Values — progressed through the House, Mission Generation’s website vanished, with its URL redirecting to the National School Chaplain Association website. When The Texas Tribune reached out about the Instagram video of Pickren’s comments unearthed by Religion News Service, it promptly disappeared from Mission Generation’s account.

As the bill came before the Texas House of Representatives, Democrats attached a provision introduced by Talarico that required school chaplains be endorsed by an organization recognized by the U.S. Department of Defense, the Federal Bureau of Prisons or the Texas Department of Criminal Justice. The amendment potentially imperiled the ability of NSCA chaplains to serve in Texas schools, as the group is not currently recognized by the Department of Defense.

But as noted by The Washington Post, the amendment was stripped from the bill after passage, likely clearing a path for NSCA chaplains to begin working in the Lone Star State.

While the bill will become law, its future remains uncertain. David Donatti of the Texas American Civil Liberties Union told RNS his group is mulling a legal challenge.

“It is truly a real-time experiment on our children,” he said of the proposal, arguing it could end up “eroding our fundamental freedom of religion and belief.”

(This story was was reported with support from the Stiefel Freethought Foundation.)

This article originally appeared here.