An atheist group in Australia has accused the government of discrimination, because it refused to financially support the atheist group's world conference in Melbourne but gave more than $2 million to a religious conference.
The federal government gave the Parliament of the World's Religions $2 million to hold its event in Melbourne, which begins December 3. The Melbourne City Council gave the religious group $500,000, according to a Melbourne newspaper report.
John Brumby, premier of the Australian state of Victoria, told a state committee in May that the Parliament of the World's Religions would attract 5,000 attendees to the new Melbourne Convention and Exhibition Centre. "This is going to be a big event and a very important branding exercise for us," he said.
The Atheist Foundation of Australia says it has approached three levels of government for a total of $270,000 for its 2010 conference, but it has received no funding. The atheist meeting "is a world-class event with world-class academic and intellectual speakers," said David Nicholls, the atheist foundation's president.
"If I was the Catholic church, they'd be all over me like a rash, giving us bundles of money," Nicholls said.
Government spokesman Luke Enright said: "The decision not to fund this event has nothing to do with religious ideology—the convention just doesn't meet the criteria required to receive government fund" To receive funding, events must have at least 1,000 attendees, and must not have been booked yet for Melbourne.
Nicholls said that after five months of discussions, state government officials informed him at the end of November that his group was not eligible for funding because it had already decided to hold its conference in Melbourne.
Colleen Hartland, an official with the state Green Party and a Christian, accused the government of "vile" religious bigotry. "Diversity does not just come in religious beliefs, but also in the reasonable and intelligent rejection of those beliefs," she said.