Republican Pennsylvania State Representative with Ties to the New Apostolic Reformation Wants Chaplains in Public Schools

Rep. David Zimmerman's bill is the latest carefully spun attempt to inject a right-wing brand of Christianity into schools in hopes of bringing more children to Jesus. It has already happened in Texas and Florida.
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There’s a new proposal for injecting Christianity into public schools. It has already been adopted in Texas and Florida, and now a  Republican state lawmaker wants to bring the idea to Pennsylvania. 

School chaplains. 

“With teacher and student morale at an all-time low, it’s time that we provide students and teachers with the support they need,” says PA Rep. David Zimmerman. 

Zimmerman introduced HB 2183. In his press release about the bill, he cites statistics about data from 30,000 schools in 23 countries and increases in high school graduation rates, drops in teen pregnancies and end to suicides. These are data points straight from the National School Chaplain Association (NCSA). 

The bill itself stipulates that a chaplain must be “certified by the National School Chaplain Association or other similar organization.”

It seems safe to say that NSCA provided some input on the bill. According to Jaxon White, reporting for Lancaster Online:

Zimmerman confirmed he has had “considerable dialogue” with leaders at the chaplain association, but he did not specify with whom he had spoken.

This is not a surprise from Zimmerman. He has gone full MAGA in his Trump support and has ties to New Apostolic Reformation Apostle Abby Abildness, one of the NAR crusaders keen to claim Pennsylvania for God. He’s also met with Christian Dominionist leader Sean Feucht. These are the folks who believe that Christians (well, the right kind of Christians) should take dominion, or control, over the seven mountains of society—family, religion, media, arts & entertainment, business, government, and education. 

How this has gone in other states? 

Texas became the first state to authorize putting chaplains in schools when they passed a law last May and Governor Greg Abbott signed it in June. The bill was promoted with the same rationale—at least publicly.

Bill authorb State Senator Mayes Middleton proposed that since school districts are “in need of additional options to further aid their students,” the bill would help by permitting “school district to hire a school chaplain to perform the duties required of a school counselor.” But Middleton after the bill passed the Senate posted on-line that it “will allow the important role chaplains serve for pastoral care and representing God’s presence within our public schools.”

READ: The Independence Law Center Seeks to Impose its Biblical Worldview on Pennsylvania School Districts

Many critics objected to the bill, but perhaps the biggest pushback in Texas came from professional chaplains. Once it became law, over 100 Texas chaplains signed a letter sent out to local school boards, imploring them not to implement the law:

Because of our training and experience, we know that chaplains are not a replacement for school counselors or safety measures in our public schools, and we urge you to reject this flawed policy option: It is harmful to our public schools and the students and families they serve.

They pointed out that professional chaplains have very specific expertise, years of training (often including a graduate theological degree) and years of religious leadership experience. Those that work in health care have even more training. And the 100 chaplains were quite clear that their training does not include mental health care for children and teens. The professionals also pointed out that part of their professional ethics include honoring and following the lead of the person they are serving, not trying to guide them to a particular faith:

As trained chaplains, we strongly caution against the government assertion of authority for the spiritual development and formation of our public school children. We would never provide spiritual care to someone without their consent. And when children are involved, parental consent is necessary.

The Texas law is problematic for many reasons. When Florida jumped on the chaplain bandwagon this year, they did so with a similarly flawed bill. Neither Texas nor Florida require more qualifications than a simple background check. No chaplain training, no counseling training, nothing more than an interest in being a school chaplain. 

Who is pushing this stuff?

Meet the National School Chaplain Association, the “world’s largest provider of certified school chaplains.” The organization has its roots in the early 1990s, with a group founded by CEO Rocky Malloy.

Malloy has a heck of a story (you can watch a short documentary about it here) that goes from his life as a drug-smuggling pirate to the Contra/Sandinista Civil War to preaching in the jungles of Honduras. He founded a group called Mission Generation and worked in schools of Bolivia, basing their work on the “Seven Principles found in the first chapters of Genesis.” Said a piece covering the couple’s work in 2015, the program “focused on life skills, principles, values and purpose for living — all centered on Jesus’ life and teachings.”

“It’s good to know God can give you a new direction at any time,” Rocky adds.

That time turned out to be 2017, as described in the synopsis of the documentary:

In keeping with their never-ending, true-life adventure, in 2017, Rocky and Joske fled the Communist government of Bolivia to the US. Today, they are maintaining their work through-out Latin America, while embarking on their greatest challenge to date, bringing The Seven Principals to public schools in America.

The newly-renamed National School Chaplain Association (still named Mission Generation, Inc. in its IRS non-profit paperwork) was soon active in certifying its own cadre of school chaplains. Headquartered in Norman, Oklahoma, the group has a board of 10 members, including Malloy. Their bios show a background in corporate and finance work, as well as a devotion to their faith. Robert Thatcher, a board member from the commercial real estate world (“the only deal I haven’t done, is yours”) uses language in his bio that some will find familiar:

In fact, given the dramatic changes occurring throughout society and the education mountain, I’ve come to realize that growing the MG Chaplain program is not just an opportunity, but honestly represents more of a mandate. I believe that Mission Generation and its leadership have a “Spiritual Mantle” that will continue to manifest. Amen!

That’s recognizable as Seven Mountains/Dominionist language.

NSCA currently shies away from overtly Christian language on its website, noting only that it is “a Christian chaplain ministry.” But look in the Wayback Machine internet archive, and you’ll find them in January of 2023 noting that “suicide, anxiety, and depression have reached epidemic levels in U.S. schools.” Then “Chaplains are the answer,” and under a heading of “God and Country,” they note that chaplain duties include “counsel based on timeless biblical values” and “serve as a source of biblical truth.”

READ: Christian Nationalists Are Closer than Ever to Getting Church-Run Public Schools

The NSCA website appears relatively young, and some details (30,000 schools in 23 countries) are clearly a reference to the work of Mission Generation. Mission Generation no longer has its own website ( now redirects you to the NSCA website), but when it did, it was pretty clear about its goals. 

An archived version of the Mission Generation website from October 2021 declares “All children deserve to know God’s love: we have a proven strategy to share Jesus with children worldwide.” It proclaims that “spreading the gospel is worth every penny. It takes $25 a month to disciple 250 students.” They state an aim to “influence those in education until the saving grace of Jesus becomes well-known, and students develop a personal relationship with Him.”

Mission Generation appears to have had no goal other than proselytizing for Jesus, but when it turned its attention to the United States, it was time to soft-peddle its aim. Rather than the Christian materials in the classroom approach that had worked for them in places like Bolivia, it was time to take a new name and send “chaplains” into schools to get Jesus in there.

In Texas, NSCA was a major player in the chaplain legislation. When asked if NSCA had worked on the proposal, Rep. Cole Hefner, one of the leaders of the chaplain charge replied, “They provided some input.”

They also have friends in the right places. In a video spotted by Jack Jenkins for Religion News, posted on NSCA’s Instagram account but since removed, Julie Pickren, an NSCA board member, gave a speech celebrating the idea of proselytizing.

There are children who need chaplains. For the pastors in here, you already know: We have a whole generation of children that have never stepped foot one day inside of a church.

Pickren has since been elected to the Texas State Board of Education. She has also been linked to an organization dedicated to training anti-woke school board members. She testified in favor of the Texas chaplain bill.

NSCA has been helping push similar bills in multiple states, even as it provides online resources so that you, too, can become an NSCA certified chaplain.

How does the bill actually look?

The bill is much like the Texas and Florida bills, with the addition of the requirement for the chaplain to be certified by NSCA. While this may seem like an improvement over the Texas and Florida “anyone who wants to volunteer and can pass a background check can be a chaplain” rule, the requirement that they pass NSCA certification means that NSCA can screen for chaplains who are the right kind of Christian.

Yes, the bill says that certification can come from an “other similar organization,” but who will determine what organizations pass that test. Remember, NSCA is not a group founded, operated, or bolstered by actual professional chaplains.

If this bill becomes law, I can predict when the “other similar organization” test will come. Expect every single state that passes one of these laws to be approached by the Satanic Temple with a demand that, in the name of religious freedom, their members must be included in the program.

Governor Ron DeSantis has already addressed this concern in Florida.

“Some have said that if you do a school chaplain program, that somehow you’re going to have Satanists running around in all our schools,” he said at a press conference at a high school in Kissimmee. “We’re not playing those games in Florida. That is not a religion. That is not qualifying to be able to participate in this.”

READ: Moms for Liberty and the Dominionist Assault on America’s ‘Education Mountain’

The IRS has long since granted the Satanic Temple status as a tax-exempt church. So we arrive at the next step on this ugly slope, which is for state or federal governments to create a Bureau of Real Churches that will declare, a la DeSantis, whether something counts as a real religion or not. Consider that reminder of why the wall between church and state is for the church’s benefit.

The drafters of this act have included one other curious feature. Zimmerman has argued that the bill would not force a district to accept chaplains, but there is this:

The governing board of a public school entity shall take a vote, no later than six months after the effective date of this section, on whether to adopt a policy authorizing the public school entity to employ, or approve as a volunteer, a certified school chaplain.

School boards will not have the option of simply ignoring the law, but will be required to go on the record as for or against chaplains in their schools, which in turn will give religious activists a chance to turn up the heat. 

What’s the bottom line here?

First, this is a bill aimed at putting faux chaplains in school, not actual trained professional chaplains.

Second, it is promoted as helping out overworked counselors. Another way to address that problem would be to increase support for getting counselors in schools. An example of such a bill would be HB 1665, a bill for increasing counselor support in schools. It passed the house on March 25 of this year and is now awaiting Senate action. Guess who voted against it—Dave Zimmerman and his Republican colleagues. If this were really all about getting students more counseling and mental health help, wouldn’t these folks be voting for more counseling and mental health help?

READ: Christian Nationalists Are Trying to Gaslight You

Third, the bill’s source is an organization that for decades focused on nothing except bringing students to Jesus by injecting Jesus into schools. The idea that they would suddenly decide, “No, you know what—just getting some folks with no strong religious agenda in there to help out, and that will be good enough” — well, that seems exceptionally unlikely.

What seems most likely is that this is one more carefully spun attempt to inject a right-wing brand of Christianity into schools in hopes of bringing more children to Jesus. It’s a bad idea, and an unconstitutional one, too.

May this bill die quietly in Harrisburg.

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Peter Greene

Peter Greene is a recently retired classroom secondary English teacher of 39 years. He lives and works in a small town in Northwest Pennsylvania, and blogs at Curmudgucation.

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