The Australian Education Union has joined a host of groups protesting last week’s announcement of federal funding to extend the school chaplains program.

The program will receive an additional $247 million over four years to support thousands of religious chaplains in schools.

Australian Education Union president Correna Haythorpe said that schools are in need of funding for other areas, The Guardian has reported.

“We do not support the chaplains program,” she said.

“Our schools need these funds to invest in programs such as school counsellors and student wellbeing programs in schools.

“We prefer to see that money invested in our schools more broadly.”

The school chaplains program, which is to feature “an enhanced focus on addressing bullying in schools”, will effectively replace the LGBTI-focused Safe Schools anti-bullying program.

Other secular groups have also criticised the chaplaincy program.

The Rationalist Society of Australia said that it “interferes with the right to religious freedom and involves religious discrimination in hiring decisions”.

Alison Courtice of Queensland Parents for Secular State Schools said the government had ignored opposition to the program and organisations urging that the religious requirement be removed.

She said the Queensland guidelines allowed chaplains to be employed under a temporary waiver of minimum qualifications, but “no such waiver applies to the faith requirement… which clearly illustrates that the program is about religion more than what’s best for students”.

Courtice said that while chaplains are not permitted to proselytise, they are allowed to deliver religious instruction while not on chaplaincy hours, in what she called ” a concerning blurring of the lines”.

In 2015, the Australian Human Rights Commission reported that concerns were raised about the school chaplains program at almost all of its public meetings, raising “questions about the extent to which religious organisations are able to enforce their beliefs when providing services that are funded by the government”.

Almost all of the religious chaplains in schools are Christian, with a small number of Islamic, Jewish, and other faith chaplains.

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