Chris Patten, the new head of the BBC Trust has described atheists as “intolerant of those who have a faith”.
Lord Patten of Barnes took charge as Chairman of the Trust on 1 May. His remarks were criticised by secularists.
Lord Patten, who is also the chancellor of the University of Oxford and a former Governor of Hong Kong, said: “It is curious that atheists have proved to be so intolerant of those who have a faith.”
Speaking last month Lord Patten, who is Roman Catholic, added: “Their books would be a lot shorter if they couldn’t refer to the Spanish Inquisition, but it is them who tend to have a level of Castillian intolerance about them.”
Terry Sanderson, President of secular campaign group, the National Secular Society responded: “Lord Patten’s comments don’t bode well for his position as chairman of the BBC Trust.
“He is supposed to represent all viewers, not just Catholics or religious people and I am quite concerned that he will not be able to be objective when religion comes into conflict with free expression in programme-making.”
The BBC Trust governs the BBC, setting its strategy and appointing its Director General.
Lord Patten’s comments follow a number of accusations of anti-Christian bias at the BBC.
In January this year former BBC news anchor Peter Sissons warned that Christians are “fair game” for insults at the broadcaster whilst Muslims must not be offended.
And in February 2011 it was revealed that the BBC had signed up for a second dose of a comedy about an inner city vicar which was self-proclaimed as “heretical” and “unholy”.
Last year Britain’s most senior Roman Catholic criticised the BBC for a “radically secular and socially liberal mindset”.
Cardinal Keith O’Brien told The Sunday Times that the mindset “sadly taints BBC news and current affairs coverage of religious issues”.
The Roman Catholic leader also called on the BBC to appoint a religion editor, something for which a Church of England bishop has also called.