Prominent atheist Richard Dawkins has called for children with religious parents to be protected from "indoctrination".
Dawkins, an evolutionary biologist and bestselling author of The Selfish Gene and The God Delusion, said in a blog for Time.com that children are being saddled with "religious labels" in a way they never would be with political or other opinions.
Referring to Islington borough council's decision not to serve pork in any primary schools, Dawkins admitted the council had denied there was an outright ban. The council has promised to work with any school that wishes to serve pork.
But Dawkins said that the wish to respect the "beliefs" of four-year-old children, as one council spokesman had implied was the case, was inappropriate.
"Religion is the one exception we all make to the rule: don't label children with the opinions of their parents," he said.
"Unlike national labels, religious labels carry a baggage of personal opinion. Catholics believe Jesus was born of a virgin mother who never died but was 'assumed' bodily into heaven. Mormons believe Jesus visited America and that Native Americans migrated from Israel."
At the very least it negates the ideal, held dear by all decent educationists, that children should be taught to think for themselves, he added.
He admitted that many of his Jewish friends, almost all atheists, see no harm in celebrating traditional festivals, and he himself enjoys cathedral carol services and harvest festivals in country churches.
"Tradition is fine where it amounts to songs or literature, styles of dress or architecture. But tradition is a terrible basis for ethics, or beliefs about the origin of the universe or the evolution of life," he added.
Later, backing a campaign by Atheist Ireland to overhaul the country's education system, he told The Irish Times: "There is a balancing act and you have to balance the rights of parents and the rights of children and I think the balance has swung too far towards parents... Children do need to be protected so that they can have a proper education and not be indoctrinated in whatever religion their parents happen to have been brought up in."