PRIME Minister John Howard denies being on a religious crusade with his controversial proposal to place government-approved chaplains in Australian schools.
All schools will be eligible to receive $20,000 to employ a chaplain, to fill what Mr Howard says is a void of spiritual and pastoral guidance available in Australian schools.
Mr Howard says the $90 million scheme, which he announced on Sunday, will be open to chaplains of many faiths and is not designed to discriminate in favour of one religious group.
Critics argue many schools already offer counselling services to students similar to the role Mr Howard envisages for the chaplains.
Former New South Wales premier Bob Carr has described the proposal as "retrograde", and warned it could divide school communities and lead to a string of anti-discrimination actions.
Mr Carr's views contrast with those of federal Labor's education spokeswoman Jenny Macklin, who has pledged her party's support for the program.