Orac explains the prize (which is given by the Atheist Alliance, not Dawkins or his foundation themselves) :
The Richard Dawkins Award will be given every year to honor an outstanding atheist whose contributions raise public awareness of the nontheist life stance; who through writings, media, the arts, film, and/or the stage advocates increased scientific knowledge; who through work or by example teaches acceptance of the nontheist philosophy; and whose public posture mirrors the uncompromising nontheist life stance of Dr. Richard Dawkins.
Past recipients have included James Randi, Ann Druyan, Penn and Teller, Julia Sweeney, Daniel Dennett, and Ayaan Hirsi Ali, all worthy recipients.
When I found this out, all I could think was: WTF?
And the reason for this outrage over the choice of Maher?
After all, Bill Maher is a woo-meister supreme and, like Jenny McCarthy, an anti-vaccine crank, as I’ve documented time and time again on this very blog. He’s also a big time PETA supporter and a germ theory denialist.
We did a show last night about God and religion with Dave Foley, who I love, and we were arguing against this one woman who had a book called I Like Being Catholic. Someone said, “Oh, boy, a lot of atheists on this panel.” I said, “I’m not an atheist. There’s a really big difference between an atheist and someone who just doesn’t believe in religion. Religion to me is a bureaucracy between man and God that I don’t need. But I’m not an atheist, no.” I believe there’s some force. If you want to call it God… I don’t believe God is a single parent who writes books. I think that the people who think God wrote a book called The Bible are just childish. Religion is so childish. What they’re fighting about in the Middle East, it’s so childish. These myths, these silly little stories that they believe in fundamentally, that they take over this little space in Jerusalem where one guy flew up to heaven–no, no, this guy performed a sacrifice here a thousand million years ago. It’s like, “Who cares? What does that have to do with spirituality, where you’re really trying to get, as a human being and as a soul moving in the universe?” But I do believe in a God, yes.
Dawkins himself showed up on Pharyngula to explain his limited involvement in choosing Maher and his limited knowledge of Maher’s overall views.