Before forming an opinion about a subject, you are doing the correct thing in doing some research here. But Richard Dawkins is not the "leader of atheism". He is a professor of evolutionary studies at a university in Great Britian. He has published some atheistic theories and comments, but that is not his main area of teaching.
Atheists do not look to a "leader" of any kind. We are individuals and as such, we each do our own thing regarding the belief in or non-belief in a god or gods. We do not have an organized group, although there are some groups that exist to fight against theocracies. Not all atheists subscribe to or join such groups.
But I think your real question is the one you asked last, "How can religious beliefs be defended?"
My question to you is, Why would you need to defend your religious beliefs? They are yours to believe. You are free to believe them, so just go ahead and do so.
The only real issue between believers in gods and unbelievers is that non-believers do not accept your "god" authority. You may believe that "god" has ordained a certain way of life, but atheists do not accept your "god", so therefore he/she/it has no power over us.
But if you choose to become a servant of your lord, then keep it personal. Don't expect everyone to obey something that doesn't exist in our way of thinking.
You wouldn't obey the laws of the Flying Spaghetti Monster - because you probably don't believe that the FSM is a god. That is how atheism works. We don't believe that your god is a god. If you want to believe that your god is a god, feel free to believe it - no defense is needed.