THE Orange Order should be afforded greater tolerance rather than face curbs on free speech and expression, a member of Scotland's anti-sectarian task force has claimed.

Amid growing opposition to the staging of an event celebrating the organisation's history and culture, sociologist Dr Michael Rosie said the opportunity to engage with the Order should not be ignored.

It comes as the Catholic Church confirms it will send a representative to 'Orangefest', being held in Glasgow's George Square on Saturday.

Orangefest organisers said the Muslim Council for Scotland and Irish Consulate General to Scotland would attend.

As the SNP in Glasgow queried how much public cash had been spent on the event, a petition, signed by several thousand, was gathering names opposing Orangefest and "hate filled Orange marches".

But Dr Rosie, a leading figures on the Independent Advisory Group on Tackling Sectarianism, said many believed the Orange Order had "no culture, only hatred".

He added: "A tolerant society requires that we put up with things we don't like. And like it or not, the Orange Order belongs to Glasgow.

"Where laws are broken we should act, no matter who breaks them, but where they are not then we should not be in the business of prohibiting free speech and free expression.

"Glasgow Orangemen have listened carefully to criticisms of parades and are attempting to open the doors on what they do and why they do it. It would be all too easy to ignore this opportunity to open meaningful dialogue with this insular and somewhat embattled section of Scottish society.

"All too easy and all too mistaken. We need more light on inter-cultural relationships in Scotland, not more accusation."

A spokesman for the Glasgow Archdiocese said: "The Archbishop (Philip Tartaglia) was invited to participate and declined. However a representative of a Catholic lay movement will go along as an observer."

The event has been billed as an "opportunity to gain an understanding of the cultural heritage and modus operandi of the Orange Lodge as a whole".

The Herald understands police have categorised the event as "low risk" during planning.

After the SNP called for costs to be made public, The Herald has learned a civic reception on Monday for 50 people had a bill of around £300.

As a non-commercial organisation they can hire the square for free but have to pay for all the organisation, facilities and insurance.

By yesterday evening a petition demanding the city council "answer to the people of Glasgow as to why this was allowed to go ahead in a city centre location on a busy Saturday" had over 5,000 signatures.

One said: "It's a disgrace to have this or any form of sectarian, racist and divisive gathering promoted as a festival."

Another said: "It's an outdated practice celebrating something that happened in Ireland many years ago, should be restricted to Ireland only."

And another claimed: "How can the Scottish Police and Scottish Parliament say they are against bigotry and sectarianism, yet let an event take place that celebrates it."

But Eddie Hyde, Grand Master of the County Grand Orange Lodge Of Glasgow, said: "We have a distinct culture stretching back hundreds of years in the city and I would class us as an ethnic minority entitled to promote ourselves the same as any other faith.

"We stand for civil and religious liberties for all. We may not like the other events in George Square and disagree with much of it but we respect their right to assemble and express themselves in George Square or wherever."