By politics.co.uk staff
A national student body of atheists and secularists has been formed to represent the interests of non-believers across the country.
The organisation - the National Federation of Atheist, Humanist and Secular Student Societies (AHS) - was established to counter the "prejudice and discrimination" atheists groups claim to have experienced across the country when establishing atheist groups.
Norman Ralph, president of the federation as well as Leeds Atheist Society (LAS), told politics.co.uk it would help new groups overcome the obstacles faced when he established his local organisation.
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"We've been undergoing what I would call prejudicial treatment for three years - since we've been in existence," he said.
"[LAS] took a year to set up because of the blocks put on us by the Christian and Islamic groups. They said we would cause racial and religious hatred by existing, and that our goals were negative by definition and shouldn't be accepted.
"Since then we've had constant issues with trying to get events organised because they say the content might cause offence to some members of the student union. When we put banner or posters up they get defaced."
The national federation, which was launched in central London today with addresses of support from prominent atheists Professor Richard Dawkins, Professor A C Grayling and Guardian columnist Polly Toynbee.
It will aim to provide a network, resources and a joint platform for the various student atheist societies.
"I am honoured to be present at the birth of this new movement," Ms Toynbee said.
"We need to oppose zealotry and fanaticism of all sorts by promoting the positive and liberating case for believing that life on earth is precious because the here and now is all there is and that our destiny is in our own hands."
Prof Dawkins added: "Why is belief in a higher power an indication of greater moral fortitude, character and acumen? The AHS says publicly that it isn't; on the contrary, beliefs that are unsupported, bigoted or demand special privileges should always be challenged.
"No opinion should be protected from criticism simply by virtue of being religiously held."
The launch comes at a time of unparalleled activity for secular groups in Britain. A recent campaign to put atheist adverts on bendy-buses in London became so successful it was expanded across the country.
An attempt to have Advertising Standards ban the advert was rejected by the watchdog, but religious groups responded by launching their own series of adverts.
There have also been calls for Radio 4 to reconsider its Thought for the Day slot on the Today programme, which is always delivered by a religious figure.