Humanists blast 'secular witch-hunt' over Pope's visit

With the Pope's visit to the UK this week expected to be overshadowed by a storm of protests from secular and atheist groups, leading British humanist think-tank the Institute of Ideas last night accused their fellow secularists of engaging in a New Atheist witch-hunt - in stark contrast to their own professed views on tolerance.

Speaking to launch a series of religion-themed debates at this year's Battle of Ideas festival, Institute of Ideas director Claire Fox said: "While many reacted with horror at France and Belgium with their intolerant ban on the burqa, the response of some secular campaigners shows that such demonization of religious groups is alive and kicking in the UK."

Hysterical, oft-repeated arguments such as that the Pope is:  "leader of the world's largest paedophile ring" have more in common with contemporary heresy-hunting than the free-thinking spirit of Enlightenment secularism, argues the Institute of Ideas.

Fox added: "There are many reasons to criticise religious leaders, and plenty are coming from within the Church itself, but secularists really should take the opportunity to remind themselves of the Enlightenment values they claim to stand for - such as tolerance, freedom of thought and conscience and a human being as a rational subject - rather than focusing on what they hate about the Church and, by extension, Catholics."

In the interests of creating a more clear-thinking and rational debate on the role religion plays in a secular society, this year's Battle of Ideas festival features a range of debates across the UK and beyond on the question of secular tolerance and religious freedom. A series of Battle Satellite discussions held in the run-up to the festival will look explicitly at the proliferation of burqa bans and calls for the arrest of the Pope, with debates being held at Foyles Bookshop in London and the House of Literature in Oslo - where the use of similar legislation to ban the veil has been hotly debated in the Norwegian Parliament.

At the Battle of Ideas itself, held over the weekend 30-31 October at the Royal College of Art, London, a series of discussions and debates will look at key areas of secular controversy - such as the issues of refusal clauses in healthcare provision and the existence of faith schools - including a debate on 'The Catholic Church: more sinned against the sinner?' where humanist lawyer (and Catholic-born) John Fitzpatrick and US-based libertarian commentator Wendy Kaminer will be joined by humanist philosopher Peter Cave and Catholic commentator Austen Ivereigh.

The 6th Battle of Ideas Festival is organised by the Institute of Ideas and is taking place on the weekend of 30-31 October at the Royal College of Art, London. The festival features over 400 speakers taking part in 75 debates, seeking to address the burning political questions of our time. For the full programme, visit:

Battle Satellites are standalone events organised with a range of national and international partners taking place throughout October and November. Locations include New York, Berlin, Frankfurt, Chennai, Mumbai, Budapest, Lisbon, Oslo and Stockholm. Full details of the programme can be viewed online here:

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