The Church of England has defended a tweet it posted offering “prayers for Prof Dawkins and his family” after Dawkins suffered a stroke. The post was retweeted, as thousands of Christians adopted the hashtag #PrayForDawkins.

Others, however, argued that the Church of England showed a lack of respect by offering prayers to Dawkins, who has spent his life campaigning against religion.

The Communication Director of the Church of England issued a statement responding to allegations from former politician Nikki Sinclaire that its comments were “ignorant and sarcastic” and that the tweet was a form of “trolling”.

Rev Arun Arora responded that “many recognized the tweet for what it was, a genuine tweet offering a prayer for a public person who was unwell”. Arguing that critics had misunderstood the purpose of the prayer, he wrote, “Some of the Twitter reaction assumed that

Christians only pray for other Christians. In fact Christians pray for all kinds of people. They pray for their friends and families. They pray for their community,” he wrote. “Poets write poetry, musicians play music, Christians pray. And they love,” Arora added.

Many Christians defended their use of the hashtag. “It’s a strange world where the Church of England has to ‘defend’ praying for someone,” one church member tweeted.

The Oxford Humanist society told Cherwell, “In the absence of any concrete evidence to the contrary, we assume that the call for prayers for Richard Dawkins is made out of genuine concern and for no other reason. Naturally we do not expect such prayers to have any effect on Professor Dawkins, but understand them as, ‘Best wishes for a speedy recovery’. We seek to make a better world for everybody based on the principles of reason and compassion, and believe that dialogue and co-operation with religious groups can further this aim. We do not represent Professor Dawkins, whose personal opinion regarding prayers for him may differ from ours.”

Dawkins has claimed that his stroke was brought on from the stress of his embroilment in a Twitter controversy, after he retweeted a video likening feminists to Islamists.