Scottish Labour leadership candidate Jim Murphy has been subject to “sectarian” online abuse, a leading church figure has claimed.
Dundee-based the Rev David Robertson, the next Free Church of Scotland Moderator, slammed posts by Scottish Secular Society founder Gary Otton.
And Mr Murphy called any discrimination based on religion “stupid” and “sickening”.
The East Renfrewshire MP’s Roman Catholic faith was highlighted in multiple messages, accusing him of being “a Catholic fanatic”, “a Pope Benedict fan” and “a religious fanatic”.
However, Mr Otton defended his remarks and denied any suggestion of religious hate.
He posted four different Facebook threads about Mr Murphy in the space of two days, all making reference to his religion and support for denominational schools.
Mr Robertson said: “I find it particularly disturbing this constant referral to Jim Murphy as Roman Catholic what does that have to do with anything?
“It comes worryingly close to the kind of anti-Catholic sectarianism that plagued the West of Scotland perhaps it still does.
“It is of no relevance or interest to me that a particular political candidate is Roman Catholic or not.
Mr Murphy should be judged on his political views and abilities, not what church he belongs to.”
The Labour politician told The Courier that no-one should be singled out because of their attitude to faith.
He added: “Religious discrimination is as stupid as it is sickening.
“In the modern Scotland we like to pride ourselves on being a tolerant people, but a minority seem trapped in the past and fixated by other people’s faith.
“I believe that people should be allowed to celebrate their faith free from harassment and that those who don’t follow any religion or religious faith should also have that right to express their views openly.”
Mr Otton said the Scottish Secular Society has “no problem” with Mr Murphy’s beliefs, but fears “they will influence his political decisions”.
He added: “In particular, we don’t approve of support for the idea that bishops can be put in charge of sex education in Catholic schools.
“We are also concerned that he will defend privileges for organised religion, segregating children on the basis of their parent’s religion in denominational schools with separate staff rooms and entrances.
“We are utterly opposed to sectarianism in any shape or form.”
Mr Murphy is favourite to be announced the next Scottish Labour leader on Saturday.
The winning candidate will replace Johann Lamont, who resigned in October.