A LEADING atheist who led Time for Reflection at the Scottish Parliament has outraged the Catholic Church with his comments on the contribution he believes faith schooling makes to bigotry.

Professor AC Grayling criticised the whole concept of faith schools during a brief visit to the Scottish Parliament yesterday.

Speaking at a meeting in Holyrood for a group of secularists and humanists, the academic said of religious-based education: "The argument against faith-based schools can be summed up in two words – Northern Ireland. Or perhaps one word – Glasgow."

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A spokesman for the Catholic Church in Scotland said: "It is unfortunate that Professor Grayling chose to make ill-informed comments about Scottish schools.

"The Universal Declaration of Human Rights gives parents the right to have their children educated in accordance with their beliefs."

He said a "mature" education system would allow multiple faiths rather than a one-size-fits-all model.

However, at Mr Grayling's meeting at Holyrood with secular and humanist representatives there was a confidence that, in time, parents would succeed in removing religious education from schools.

He also claimed religions jumped to the head of the queue when it came to debate on public issues across the UK.

Churches which collectively took in 3% of the population on any regular basis found themselves "at the front of the queue of lobbyists", said Mr Grayling.

He said that once churches became minority groups they should "join the queue like anyone else".

The academic, whose full name is Anthony Clifford Grayling, was critical of educational changes south of the Border which were opening the way to interventions from extreme religious groups advocating Creationism.

He also argued that the Catholic Church as a major multinational organisation had to take more responsibility for child abuse in its ranks, saying the Pope should be responsible as "chief executive officer".

Mr Grayling also presented Time For Reflection at the Scottish Parliament yesterday, becoming one of the most senior figures in the UK atheist and humanist community to deliver the slot.

There, Mr Grayling's appearance was greeted among MSPs by similar numbers that often attend what would yesterday become, for the day, the Non God Slot.

Mr Grayling's contribution in the Chamber clearly sought to be inoffensive.

He spoke of his mother – named Burns and born on January 25 – to make a connection to Scotland, and then spoke about his great hero David Hume and "his prescient view of morality and of human nature."

He said Mr Hume's argument was that humans were social beings, who were capable of millions of acts of human kindness, of organisation and conflict.

He argued: "We were also capable of division – the latter caused by tribalism."

It was a brief and understated secular sermon designed to advance the cause of humanism rather than pick a fight with organised religion.

But his full feelings on "tribalism" had come out earlier at his meeting in the Parliament for staffers and invited figures.

Mr Grayling recently published The God Argument, which sums up the difference between his approach and that of Britain's most fiercely public atheist, Richard Dawkins, who called his most famous book The God Delusion. He has frequently visited Scotland, in particular the Edinburgh Book Festival, and has built up a friendship with a cleric, Bishop Richard Holloway.

Mr Grayling was born in Zambia and lectured at Oxford before becoming professor of philosophy at London University.