Atheist professor and author Richard Dawkins is set to moderate a panel examining what the American Humanist Association says are the harmful effects of religious fundamentalism on children at its 72nd annual conference in San Diego.
Sean Faircloth, director of Strategy & Policy at the Richard Dawkins Foundation for Reason & Science, said in a post announcing the news about the June 1 event that in his experience as assistant attorney general in Maine handling child protection cases, he has seen how "disheartening" it is for religion to be "used as a justification for policies that would never be acceptable – but for the imprimatur of religion."
In addition to Faircloth, some of the speakers who will be participating on the panel moderated by Dawkins include Katherine Stewart, author of The Good News Club: The Christian Right's Stealth Assault on America's Children, and Janet Heimlich, author of Breaking Their Will: Shedding Light on Religious Child Maltreatment.
"It is almost cliché to say 'Let's do it for the children' but, in this panel, we will face the wrenching reality of what has been done to the children in the name of religion," Faircloth wrote. "It is a far more widespread and ugly problem than most Americans realize."
Dawkins has spoken out on the issue often himself.
"Nobody would seriously describe a tiny child as a 'Marxist child' or an 'Anarchist child' or a 'Post-modernist child.' Yet children are routinely labeled with the religion of their parents. We need to encourage people to think carefully before labeling any child too young to know their own opinions, and our adverts will help to do that," Dawkins previously said.
The atheist has also argued that the Roman Catholic doctrine of eternal hell for nonbelievers is even worse than sex abuse because of the supposed lasting psychological damage it inflicts on children.
"Thank goodness, I have never personally experienced what it is like to believe – really and truly and deeply believe – in hell. But I think it can be plausibly argued that such a deeply held belief might cause a child more long-lasting mental trauma than the temporary embarrassment of mild physical abuse," the author of The God Delusion, who was abused as a child by a priest, has said.
Catholics have firmly rejected such comparisons, however.
"While there is no question that Hell is a place of eternal punishment, it is a place of choice, where individuals choose to go by their actions. Specifically, by rejecting God and practicing mortal sin without repentance," stated an article by Catholic.org in response to Dawkins' claim.
"The Catholic Church offers salvation and a path to eternal life and union with God. How can this be abuse? -- The simple fact is Richard Dawkins is a very angry man who will say anything he can to stand in the limelight. Even if his comments are abusive to the one billion plus Catholics on Earth."