Figures such as Stephen Fry and Terry Pratchett criticise honour over Vatican's record on gay rights, abortion and birth control
Stephen Fry, Terry Pratchett, Philip Pullman and Richard Dawkins are among more than 50 public figures who have signed a letter to the Guardian arguing that the pope should not be given the "honour" of a UK state visit.
The signatories, also including Ken Follett, Stewart Lee and Sir Jonathan Miller, call for "Pope Ratzinger" to be stripped of the right because of the Vatican's record on gay rights, abortion and birth control.
The letter blames the Catholic church's opposition to the use of condoms for aiding the global spread of Aids and criticises its failure to properly tackle the clerical sexual abuse scandal.
Benedict XVI begins the first-ever state visit by a pope to Britain tomorrow. While his predecessor, John Paul II, visited the UK in 1982, his was officially a pastoral visit. As well as meeting the archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, and David Cameron, the pontiff will visit Edinburgh, Glasgow, London and Birmingham.
The letter argues: "We believe that the pope, as a citizen of Europe and the leader of a religion with many adherents in the UK, is of course free to enter and tour our country. However, as well as a religious leader, the pope is a head of state, and the state and organisation of which he is head has been responsible for: opposing the distribution of condoms and so increasing large families in poor countries and the spread of Aids; promoting segregated education; denying abortion to even the most vulnerable women; opposing equal rights for lesbians, gay, bisexual and transgender people; and failing to address the many cases of abuse of children within its own organisation."
The letter adds: "In any case, we reject the masquerading of the Holy See as a state and the pope as a head of state as merely a convenient fiction to amplify the international influence of the Vatican."
The lawyer Geoffrey Robertson QC argues that Britain is wrong to afford the pope a state visit because the sovereignty of the Vatican and Holy See are based on a 1929 Lateran treaty, which was signed by the Italian dictator Benito Mussolini
Organising the visit will cost taxpayers an estimated £12m, with policing costs expected to total an extra £1m.