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Presbyterian leader accuses Scottish secularists of anti-Catholicism

Jim Murphy: the Protestant leader said he was being targeted for his faith (PA)

The Presbyterian Free Church of Scotland has accused the Scottish Secular Society of sectarianism after the group made a number of comments about Jim Murphy MP’s Catholicism.

The Rev David Robertson, moderator-elect of the Free Church, wrote in his blog that the Labour MP, who is tipped as a possible leadership candidate, had been targeted by the secularists for being a Catholic.

Rev Robertson, the minister of St Peter’s Free Church in Dundee, described as “disturbing” the fact that Garry Otton, founder of the secularist group, had posted four threads about Mr Murphy over 49 hours, all of them referring to his religion and support for religious schools.

He said: “The Scottish Secular Society have posted several stories about ‘Catholic fanatic/extremist/Pope Benedict fan’ Jim Murphy over the past few days.

“I find it particularly disturbing this constant referral to Jim Murphy as Roman Catholic – what does that have to do with anything? It comes worryingly close to the kind of anti-Catholic sectarianism that plagued the West of Scotland – perhaps it still does.

“It is of no relevance or interest to me that a particular political candidate is Roman Catholic or not. Mr Murphy should be judged on his political views and abilities, not what church he belongs to. It is ironic that of all groups the Scottish Secular Society continues to highlight religious affiliation as though this were somehow a disqualifying factor.

“It does not bode well for freedom of religion in the ‘secular’ society they are striving to create.”

But Mr Otton told the Glasgow Herald that the Scottish Secular Society had no problem with Mr Murphy’s beliefs, “but a very great problem with the way in which we fear they will influence his political decisions”.

“In particular, we don’t approve of support for the idea that bishops can be put in charge of sex education in Catholic schools. We are also concerned that he will defend privileges for organised religion, segregating children on the basis of their parents’ religion in denominational schools with separate staff rooms and entrances. We are utterly opposed to sectarianism in any shape or form.”