BY SIMON CALDWELL
A CATHOLIC group has criticised the Government for using taxpayers' money to pay atheists to preach about the rights of religious believers.
The Equality and Human Rights Commission is paying the British Humanist Association (BHA) to stage a series of conferences on "religion or belief in equality and human rights work".
Members of the Catholic Union of Great Britain, which scrutinises public policy, are furious that public money will pay for a platform for high-profile atheists to attack the religious beliefs of the majority of the people of Britain.
Speakers include the Lib Dem MP Evan Harris — nicknamed Doctor Death because of his campaigns for easier abortion, embryonic stem-cell research and voluntary euthanasia as well as the hardline atheist philosopher A C Grayling and Angela Mason of Stonewall, the gay rights group. Adrian Thacker, chairman of the union, said: "Some might suggest that funding the BHA to provide seminars on religion and belief discrimination is a bit like asking a racist organisation to give seminars on race discrimination. It will be interesting to see if the commission is willing to give the same level of funding to religious groups for similar seminars."
The commission was set up in 2007 under the Equality Act 2006, partly to protect the rights of religious groups.
However. the BHA earlier this month sent out thousands of letters lobbying support for a campaign against the religious character of the country. "We believe that religious viewpoints have a disproportionate influence on public policy," said Hume Stinson, the association's chief executive. "This influence is set to grow. Our aim is to stop this."
Delegates at the conferences will discuss issues such as what sort of accommodation for religious practice is acceptable in the workplace.
The events are open to people working in the "religion or belief' equalities field in the public and voluntary sectors and the media.
Neil Addison, a banister and expert on religious hatred law, said: "It does really raise the question of whether the Equality and Human Rights Commission are actually willing to defend religious rights as they are obliged to by statute."
Andrew Copson, director of education and public affairs of the BHA, denied that the group sought to impose atheism.
"We oppose religious privilege and discrimination on the grounds of religion or belief and argue for equal treatment of all people," he said.
"The day conferences we are running with funding ftom the Equality and Human Rights Commission include both religious and non-religious speakers in order to advance understanding of the `religion or belief' equality strand among voluntary sector and other staff."