Ricky Gervais ridicules backlash at teacher who 'showed Prophet Mohammed cartoon' to class 


Ricky Gervais has ridiculed Muslims angry with a teacher who was given death threats after allegedly showing cartoons of the Prophet Mohammed to students, declaring: ‘What next? People being punished for insulting unicorns?’.

The atheist British comedian has mocked the protesters who gathered outside Batley Grammar School again today demanding the unnamed teacher is sacked for blasphemy, forcing the headteacher to keep 980 children at home.

Mr Gervais, a well known defender of free speech also famed for his own outrageous and often offensive jokes, tweeted to his 14.5million followers: ‘Blasphemy? F***ing Blasphemy? It’s 2021 for f**k’s sake. What next? People being punished for insulting unicorns?’. 

The creator of The Office, After Life and Extras, was backed by BBC broadcaster Nicky Campbell, who said Mr Gervais’ tweet was about the ‘lunacy of blasphemy’, branding it a ‘victimless crime’ while rowing with a critic of the comedian. One critic of the comedian called his tweet: ‘An insult to the Islamic community worldwide’.

Today it was revealed that a petition started by students of the teacher suspended by Batley Grammar School has been signed by thousands of people – at a rate of one per second – as it was revealed he was forced to flee his home because of death threats. 

Ricky Gervais has defended freedom of speech today as protesters crowded at the gates of Batley Grammar School again to demand the sacking of a teacher who allegedly showed students a cartoon of the Prophet Mohammed

Ricky Gervais has defended freedom of speech today as protesters crowded at the gates of Batley Grammar School again to demand the sacking of a teacher who allegedly showed students a cartoon of the Prophet Mohammed

Mr Gervais, a well known defender of free speech also famed for his own outrageous and often offensive jokes, tweeted to his 14.5million followers that it was like getting 'punished for insulting unicorns'

Mr Gervais, a well known defender of free speech also famed for his own outrageous and often offensive jokes, tweeted to his 14.5million followers that it was like getting ‘punished for insulting unicorns’

The ‘burly Yorkshire lad’ in his 20s, who has not been named, is getting support from police after he allegedly showed cartoons of the Prophet Mohammed as the headteacher today kept 980 children at home after 50 Muslim protesters from outside the area turned up for a second day.  

Mr Gervais was accused by critics of insulting Muslims around the globe

Mr Gervais was accused by critics of insulting Muslims around the globe

Some of his students have launched a petition trying to save his job, which has been signed by more than 3,000 people by 2pm today, up by 2,000 in the past 12 hours.

People who backed the campaign to save his job have described him as a ‘good man’ and a ‘diligent teacher’ who is ‘respectful of all religions’. Others said the school must stand by him, insisting he was being ‘bullied out’ by ‘radicals’. 

One Muslim parent signed the petition, named Mohammed J, wrote: ‘I would like to convey my support for the school and also the teacher concerned. He has taught my daughter and she speaks very highly of him. I would not hesitate to see him teach her again. I am confident that the teacher concerned did not mean any offence and I hope following an investigation he returns to his role at the school.’

Another signatory said: ‘He is loved by many students. Muslim and non Muslim. Batley Grammar stand up for one of your own. Don’t lose a good teacher’.

Protesters managed to close the school today but none of the demonstrators MailOnline spoke to this morning were parents of children there, and had travelled to Batley from Dewsbury, Bradford and Leeds to join a smaller group of locals  social media and WhatsApp groups. Many have pledged to protest there every day until he is sacked.

Education secretary Gavin Williamson has condemned the protests and said schools must be free to show ‘challenging or controversial’ materials in class. Communities Secretary Robert Jenrick said it was ‘very disturbing’that the teacher has been forced into hiding.

The amateur rugby player, trained to teach in the mid-2010s after going to university in the north of England, and now lives in the area close to his West Yorkshire school with his partner. Recently he described his love of his job and helping educate young people from his area.

His neighbour, who is concerned for her own safety after protesters published his name online, has told MailOnline that he left his home at 9.30am yesterday and was rushed into a black vehicle. It is not known if it was an unmarked police car. 

She added: ‘I saw him and his family leaving in a rush yesterday. They got into a black car. A car which belongs to them is still at the front. They seemed in a hurry and they haven’t come back last night and are not here today. I have phoned the police myself because I am worried in case there is any trouble as I live above them and I have got a baby. I can’t go and stay with my parents because of Covid.’  

The row of the teacher’s RE lesson continues as:

  • Ministers speak out to defend ‘free speech’ and demand people protesting outside the school must go home and let the school and council investigate; 
  • Protesters say they will come every day and have done nothing wronmg by naming the teacher online, claiming if he had upset the LGBT or Jewish communities he would have already been sacked;
  • Neighbours described a ‘kind’ and ‘smiling’ teacher who loved his job and saw helping students as his vocation;
  • Pupils launch petition to save his job, which has also been backed by some Muslim parents whose children were taught by him; 
Protesters bowed their heads outside the school today as it was revealed the teacher facing death threats has been forced to flee the area

Protesters bowed their heads outside the school today as it was revealed the teacher facing death threats has been forced to flee the area

A protester speaking "on behalf of the Muslim community" read out a statement outside of the school on Friday, and said 'We do not accept that the school has taken this issue seriously, given that it's taken them four days to merely suspend only one of the teachers involved'

A protester speaking ‘on behalf of the Muslim community’ read out a statement outside of the school on Friday, and said ‘We do not accept that the school has taken this issue seriously, given that it’s taken them four days to merely suspend only one of the teachers involved’

The RE teacher facing death threats and protests at his Batley school (pictured today) is a 'burly Yorkshire lad' who recently wrote about his love for the job

The RE teacher facing death threats and protests at his Batley school (pictured today) is a ‘burly Yorkshire lad’ who recently wrote about his love for the job

Today more Muslim protesters gathered at the gates  of Batley Grammar School and were spoken to police as the teacher was suspended from his job and the headteacher issued a humbling apology and shut the school

A student turned up at the gates for school only to be told the headteacher had shut it down for the day due to the ongoing protests

A student turned up at the gates for school only to be told the headteacher had shut it down for the day due to the ongoing protests

One of the protesters watches a police officer at the gate of the West Yorkshire school where a young teacher was accused of blasphemy

One of the protesters watches a police officer at the gate of the West Yorkshire school where a young teacher was accused of blasphemy

Protesters told MailOnline that the teacher has insulted 2billion Muslims around the world and must be sacked immediately

Protesters told MailOnline that the teacher has insulted 2billion Muslims around the world and must be sacked immediately

The protesters have included local faith leaders from across Yorkshire who are calling for the school to take action now

The protesters have included local faith leaders from across Yorkshire who are calling for the school to take action now

The group outside the gates insist that they want a peaceful protest and will remain until the teacher has been fired

The group outside the gates insist that they want a peaceful protest and will remain until the teacher has been fired

The protesters, all Muslim men, are angry that the RE teacher allegedly showed cartoons of the Prophet Mohammed to students.

The protesters, all Muslim men, are angry that the RE teacher allegedly showed cartoons of the Prophet Mohammed to students.

A man amongst the 50 protesters admitted he had posted the teacher’s name on Facebook with a letter condemning – but told Mail Online he had done nothing wrong

Dozens of British Muslims, all of them men, returned to the school today, holding prayers and speeches and demanding the immediate sacking of the teacher at the school, where almost three-quarters of pupils are from minority ethnic groups.

Teacher who sparked Batley school ‘blasphemy’ protests wrote of his love for his ‘fantastic’ job

The RE teacher who sparked a blasphemy protest at the gates after allegedly showing cartoons of the Prophet Mohammed to students is a ‘burly Yorkshire lad’, it was revealed today.

The amateur rugby player, who is in his late 20s, had trained to teach in the mid-2010s after going to university in the north of England, and now lives a short distance from his Batley school with his partner. 

In an article about life as a trainee teacher, he wrote: ‘Teaching is a fantastic profession. One which I cannot wait to start.’ 

He added: ‘You also teach them about life’.

He had spoken of his experiences as a trainee teacher, saying how it was a ‘fantastic’ profession that he ‘could not wait’ to begin, The Telegraph reports. 

One neighbour called him a ‘nice man’, while another called him a ‘good, honest, burly Yorkshire lad’ who ‘always had a smile for us’.

A protester speaking ‘on behalf of the Muslim community’ read out a statement outside of the school on Friday, in which he said: ‘The teachers have breached the position of trust and failed their duty of safeguarding, and this issue must be addressed as a matter of urgency.

‘We do not accept that the school has taken this issue seriously, given that it’s taken them four days to merely suspend only one of the teachers involved’. He called on the entire British Muslim community to review the materials being taught in their children’s schools.

Batley Grammar School was closed today after more than 50 Muslims returned to demand the sacking of a RE teacher. The protesters outside the school dispersed after a couple of hours this morning as the rain fell. 

Labour MP for Batley and Spen Tracey Brabin has condemned those who ‘seek to fan the flames’ in the Prophet Mohammed row at a school in her constituency.

It comes as people gathered for a second day of protest outside Batley Grammar School, in Batley, near Bradford, West Yorkshire.

In a statement shared on Twitter, Ms Brabin said: ‘No teacher should be facing intimidation or threats, there is no excuse for that.

‘The focus must be on the welfare and education of the children at this school.

‘I welcome the school’s apology and recognition of the offence this has caused but conversations between the school, parents and local community must proceed in a dignified and respectful matter.

‘Those who seek to fan the flames of this incident will only provoke hate and division in our community and I would encourage all involved to work together and calm the situation.’ 

But protesters outside the school again accused him of offending 2billion Muslims around the globe, arguing he should have been dismissed immediately.  

Education Secretary Gavin Williamson has condemned the death threats.

He said: ‘It is never acceptable to threaten or intimidate teachers. We encourage dialogue between parents and schools when issues emerge. However, the nature of protest we have seen, including issuing threats and in violation of coronavirus restrictions are completely unacceptable and must be brought to an end.

‘Schools are free to include a full range of issues, ideas and materials in their curriculum, including where they are challenging or controversial, subject to their obligations to ensure political balance. They must balance this with the need to promote respect and tolerance between people of different faiths and beliefs, including in deciding which materials to use in the classroom.’

The school’s headteacher took a late decision to keep pupils away and put them on online studies today due to the row. Private security guards have also been called to the school to monitor the protest, while police liaison officers trained to deal with protests and community relations were also at the gates. Some children were turned away this morning because the closure was at the 11th hour.

Protesters take part in a prayer outside Batley Grammar School in Batley today where protesters say they will return every day until the teacher is sacked

Protesters take part in a prayer outside Batley Grammar School in Batley today where protesters say they will return every day until the teacher is sacked

A police officer arrives at the protest today, which later ended abruptly after torrential rain in West Yorkshire this morning

A police officer arrives at the protest today, which later ended abruptly after torrential rain in West Yorkshire this morning

The majority of the protesters are believed to be from outside the area.  Labour MP for Batley and Spen Tracey Brabin condemned those who 'seek to fan the flames' in the row

The majority of the protesters are believed to be from outside the area.  Labour MP for Batley and Spen Tracey Brabin condemned those who ‘seek to fan the flames’ in the row

The unnamed teacher had spoken of his experiences as a trainee teacher, saying recently how it was a ‘fantastic’ profession that he ‘could not wait’ to begin so he could ‘teach students about life’, The Telegraph reported.  

Students launch petition defending suspended RE teacher 

A petition urging the headteacher to ‘keep’ the under fire teacher at  Batley Grammar School’ has been launched online.   

The campaign has also been backed by Muslim parents with children at the school, who say he is a good teacher. 

One, Mohammed J, wrote a message online saying: ‘ I would like to convey my support for the school and also the teacher concerned. He has taught my daughter and she speaks very highly of him and I believe he has provided a strong platform for my daughter to understand and view RE within the context of critical discourse.

‘I would not hesitate to see him teach my daughter again. I am therefore confident that the teacher concerned did not mean any offence and i hope following an investigation he returns to his role at the school.’

Today more Muslim protesters gathered at the gates and were spoken to by police for the second day after the unnamed teacher was suspended and the headteacher issued a humbling apology to parents at the state school, where almost three-quarters of pupils are from minority ethnic groups.

It is not known if all the group of around 50 men outside this morning were parents, with some likely to be from local mosques, including from nearby Leeds and Dewsbury.

Mohammed Hussain of the ‘Purpose of Life’ group has admitted to MailOnline that he shared teacher’s name on social media with a letter condemning him. 

He said: ‘His name was already widely available in Internet posts and it was going around. I didn’t make public his name first. It was not our intention to cause any danger to him. In fact we asked for only peaceful protest. We don’t want people breaking the law. But we do feel that if this had been something that offended the LGBT community or something that was anti-Semitic, he would’ve been sacked on the spot.

‘His resignation should be forthcoming immediately. He has insulted 2billion Muslims on the planet. We cannot stand for that. We have to make our voices heard on it.’ 

One man at the gates, who only wanted to be named as Muhammed, said: ‘It’s a very sensitive topic – it’s about our prophet. Somebody has disrespected our prophet.

‘We don’t disrespect anybody else’s religious beliefs. We just want to create awareness that this is wrong. Don’t do it – it’s as simple as that.

‘It’s a very peaceful protest today and we’ll keep it like that.

‘We want the individual involved to be suspended on a permanent basis – not a temporary basis. We’d be very disappointed (if the teacher isn’t sacked).’

He then added that they will come to the school gates every day until the teacher is sacked.

The Communities Secretary said protests outside a school in West Yorkshire where a teacher was suspended for reportedly showing pupils a caricature of the Prophet Mohammed were ‘not right’. 

 Robert Jenrick also said suggestions that a teacher at Batley Grammar School in Batley, near Bradford, was in hiding were ‘very disturbing’, telling Sky News: ‘I don’t know precisely what a teacher did in the classroom.

‘We know that the school is looking into the matter and investigating, and that is absolutely right – the Department for Education (DfE) is liaising with the school and the council.

‘What I can say is there has to be an appropriate balance – we have to ensure there is free speech, that teachers can teach uninhabited but that has to be done in a respectful and tolerant way and that’s a balance to be struck by teaching professionals and the schools concerned.

‘What I would also add is that I was disturbed to see scenes of people protesting outside the school – that is not right.

Batley Grammar School headteacher Gary Kibble wrote to parents to confirm the issues were being investigated

Batley Grammar School headteacher Gary Kibble wrote to parents to confirm the issues were being investigated

‘We shouldn’t have teachers, members of staff of schools feeling intimidated, and the reports that a teacher may even be in hiding is very disturbing. That is not a road we want to go down in this country, so I would strongly urge people who are concerned about this issue not to do that.’

The leader of the group told those gathered: ‘Let’s keep social distance and let’s keep our masks on. We are here to protect the name of the Prophet.’ 

A police source says there were ‘meetings’ within West Yorkshire Police about the demonstration, and how best to manage the fallout – including keeping teachers safe.  

‘Officers have been especially assigned to him,’ the source said. ‘This is obviously very sensitive. Local Muslims are up in arms and the teacher has not apologised. There is obviously significant risk around the individual.’

Gavin Williamson has condemned the death threats made against a teacher who was suspended for allegedly showing a caricature of the Prophet Mohammed in a religious studies lesson on blasphemy. 

The Education Secretary said that the protests outside the historic Batley Grammar School in West Yorkshire yesterday were ‘completely unacceptable’, after dozens of furious Muslim parents demonstrated and chanted ‘shame on you’ as they called for the teacher’s removal.

One neighbour called him a ‘nice man’, while another called him a ‘good, honest, burly Yorkshire lad’ who ‘always had a smile for us’. 

Furious protesters outside the historic Batley Grammar School in West Yorkshire yesterday chanted ‘shame on you’ as they called for the teacher’s removal, following allegations he showed a graphic depiction of the Prophet Mohammed in a lesson about blasphemy. 

It is not yet known what exact image was shown to the children, but parents had claimed they were ‘French’ caricatures. 

This could be a reference to those published by Charlie Hebdo in 2012, which had been used as a justification for the heinous murder of 12 people at the magazine’s Paris office. 

The teacher is now the subject of great controversy, finding himself in the middle of a row over freedom of speech and offensive material.   

There was no sign of him at his home and the car was missing yesterday, following the outbreak of the row.   

West Yorkshire Police sent specialist liaison officers trained to deal with protests and community relations were also at the gates

West Yorkshire Police sent specialist liaison officers trained to deal with protests and community relations were also at the gates

Education Secretary Gavin Williamson has now condemned the death threats made against the teacher. A Department for Education spokesperson said: 'It is never acceptable to threaten or intimidate teachers. We encourage dialogue between parents and schools when issues emerge

Education Secretary Gavin Williamson has now condemned the death threats made against the teacher. A Department for Education spokesperson said: ‘It is never acceptable to threaten or intimidate teachers. We encourage dialogue between parents and schools when issues emerge

The backlash over his alleged actions come five months after history teacher Samuel Paty was beheaded on the street near his school in a Paris suburb by an Islamic extremist for showing Prophet Muhammad cartoons to his students.  

The killing shocked the country and led to a fresh debate about freedom of speech and the integration of France’s large Muslim population. 

It also brought back memories of a wave of Islamist violence that started with the Charlie Hebdo massacre, sparked by the same cartoons in the satirical magazine in 2015 when gunmen killed 12 people. 

Messages had been issued on social media on Wednesday urging Muslims to ‘defend the honour of our Prophet Mohammed’ by protesting by the school. 

Muslim community leaders urged calm. The Ramadhan Foundation’s Mohammed Shafiq said: ‘We are proud to exercise our civic rights in regards to freedom of speech by standing up against such depictions.

‘We do so in peace and reject any violence or threat of violence. We urge all who love the Prophet Muhammad PBUH within the British Muslim community to remember our responsibilities to reject violence and never give in to the narrative that some want to paint us as.’  

A West Yorkshire Police officer read out a grovelling apology to mothers and fathers from headteacher Gary Kibble, but this provoked even more fury from those gathered as they called the teacher – who is now believed to be in hiding after he was identified online – a ‘danger’. 

Parents claimed that the teacher, who the school have not named, showed students a cartoon of the Prophet during a religious education class – and had predicted he would face a controversial reaction.

Though it is not yet known what exact image was shown to the children, parents had said they were ‘French’ caricatures, possibly referring to those published by Charlie Hebdo in 2012, which were used as a justification for the heinous murder of 12 people at the magazine’s Paris office.  

Education Secretary Gavin Williamson has now condemned the death threats made against the Batley teacher. 

A Department for Education spokesperson said: ‘It is never acceptable to threaten or intimidate teachers. We encourage dialogue between parents and schools when issues emerge.

‘However, the nature of protest we have seen, including issuing threats and in violation of coronavirus restrictions are completely unacceptable and must be brought to an end.

‘Schools are free to include a full range of issues, ideas and materials in their curriculum, including where they are challenging or controversial, subject to their obligations to ensure political balance. 

‘They must balance this with the need to promote respect and tolerance between people of different faiths and beliefs, including in deciding which materials to use in the classroom.’ 

Former Conservative Cabinet Minister Sajid Javid also condemned the backlash, writing: ‘In this country we are free to peacefully follow, preach or query any religion or none. These are hard-won freedoms that must be upheld by all public institutions. Reports of intimidation in Batley set a deeply unsettling and potentially dangerous precedent.

‘President Macron rightly warned about intolerant ”separatism” two weeks before Samuel Paty was murdered. We cannot afford to wait for another tragedy to tackle extremism and reaffirm our values, as I argued recently.’ 

In posts to Facebook, the teacher is said to have accepted that pupils at the co-educational free school would tell their parents about the image before then displaying the cartoon to the class. 

Police descend on Batley Grammar School in West Yorkshire on Thursday as dozens of furious Muslim parents protest outside

Police descend on Batley Grammar School in West Yorkshire on Thursday as dozens of furious Muslim parents protest outside

Mufti Mohammed Amin Pandor, a local Muslim scholar, told the crowd in Batley that the teacher has been suspended

Mufti Mohammed Amin Pandor, a local Muslim scholar, told the crowd in Batley that the teacher has been suspended

Batley Grammar School headteacher Gary Kibble, pictured, has since apologised for the 'inappropriate' resource

Batley Grammar School headteacher Gary Kibble, pictured, has since apologised for the ‘inappropriate’ resource 

An angry crowd had first gathered outside the grammar school at 7.30am on Thursday, causing the establishment to delay its opening and tell pupils to stay home amid chaotic scenes at the gates.

The parents were still protesting at lunchtime, as police began threatening them with Covid-19 fines and shut a road in both directions. Police later said there were no arrests or fines issued.  

‘Children must learn about faiths – but in a respectful, sensitive way’: Headteacher Gary Kibble’s full statement

‘The school unequivocally apologises for using a totally inappropriate image in a religious studies lesson. It should not have been used. 

‘The member of staff has also relayed their sincere apologies. 

‘We have immediately withdrawn teaching on this part of the course, and we are revising how we go forward with the support of all communities represented in our school.

‘It is important for children to learn about faiths and beliefs, but this must be done in a respectful, sensitive way.

‘The member of staff has been suspended pending an independent formal investigation. 

‘The school is working closely with our governing body and community leaders to help us resolve this situation, and we continue to do so.

‘I know many of you will have questions but we are undertaking a formal process now and it is therefore very difficult for us to be able to answer any of those questions without jeopardising that, but we hope that we can reach a swift conclusion moving forward.’

It took until 2.30pm for the demonstration to be cleared by police, a spokesperson for West Yorkshire Police confirmed. MailOnline has asked the school a series of questions, including about what images were shown.

Muslim leader Mohammad Sajad Hussain, founder of a Batley-based charity, said he was ‘deeply hurt’ by the ‘insulting caricatures of our beloved Prophet Mohammed’ in an open letter. He said the charity is unwilling to work with or promote the school until the teacher is ‘permanently removed’. 

Dr Abdul Shaikh, an academic in Batley and Muslim activist, said he heard about the incident on social media on Wednesday night.

Speaking to the PA news agency, he said: ‘I was shocked like many Muslims in the town that Muslim school children’s religious sensitivities were completely ignored by the school teacher who decided to show an offensive image that lampooned the noble Prophet Mohammed.

‘Every Muslim around the world holds the Prophet in the highest esteem. I feel that the school should be allowed to complete their investigation in due course and find a fair and adequate solution that satisfies first and foremost Muslim pupils, their parents and the wider Muslim community in Batley.

‘This situation should not be allowed to happen again for the sake of community cohesion in the area.’

Qari Asim, a senior imam at the Makkah Mosque in Leeds, said: ‘I sympathise with the parents and pupils because sadly, this is not the first time we have seen offensive images of Prophet Mohammed being used.

‘People have a right to express their concerns and hurt but protests can’t always achieve what can be achieved through constructive dialogue – fair investigation by the school, in consultation with the parents, should be allowed to take place.

‘We do not want to fan the flames of Islamophobia and provoke hatred or division.’

And Mohammed Shafiq, CEO of the Ramadhan Foundation, condemned the teacher ‘in the strongest terms’ for not considering the ‘hurt’ he would cause by showing a drawing to children in a religious studies lesson.

He said: ‘The World knows the love and respect we have for our Prophet and our hearts are pained tonight to know a teacher working with 70% Muslim pupils didn’t consider the hurt this would cause.

‘We understand the anger parents have been feeling and as we know this is not the first time under the cloak of freedom of speech our faith is being attacked.

‘We love the Prophet Muhammad PBUH more than own lives and this incident has happened which will now be hijacked by those who have an interest in perpetuating an image of Muslims, we will not allow these attacks to go unanswered.’

He added: ‘It is alarming that the Department of Education chose to amplify those divisions by attacking the parents and pupils rather than looking how we can come together to have a respectful discussion and seek an end to this issue.’ 

Mr Kibble, headteacher of the school founded in 1612 by the Reverend William Lee, said the RE teacher has been suspended, and went on to issue a ‘sincere’ and ‘unequivocal’ apology. He called the image ‘totally inappropriate’ and said the school had ‘immediately withdrawn teaching on this part of the course’. 

In a televised statement, he added:  ‘It is important for children to learn about faiths and beliefs, but this must be done in a respectful, sensitive way. The school is working closely with our governing body and community leaders to help us resolve this situation, and we continue to do so.’ 

The RE teacher, who lives with his partner a short distance from the school, was not home today and his car was not parked at the property.

A neighbour told MailOnline: ‘He’s a nice man. I see him go off to school, but not today or the day before.’

He was described by another neighbour as a ‘local lad’ who studied close to home and decided to teach in the area he was born and raised.

The neighbour said: ‘He’s a good, honest Yorkshire lad. Likes his rugby and always had a smile for us.’

The teacher’s parents were also not at home.

The National Secular Society branded the protest as an ‘attempt to impose an Islamic blasphemy taboo on a school’. Stephen Evans, its chief executive, said: ‘Teachers must have a reasonable degree of freedom to explore sensitive subjects and enable students to think critically about them.

‘And the school’s weak response will fuel a climate of censorship, which is brought on by attempts to force society as a whole to accommodate unreasonable and reactionary religious views.’ 

Today’s protest comes five months after history teacher Samuel Paty was beheaded on the street near his school in a Paris suburb by an Islamic extremist last October after showing Prophet Muhammad cartoons to his students.  

The killing shocked the country and led to a fresh debate about freedom of speech and the integration of France’s large Muslim population. It also brought back memories of a wave of Islamist violence that started with the Charlie Hebdo massacre, sparked by the same cartoons in the satirical magazine in 2015 when gunmen killed 12 people.

Mufti Mohammed Amin Pandor, a local Muslim scholar, told the crowd that the teacher had been suspended, which was later confirmed by the school, where almost three-quarters of pupils are from minority ethnic groups.

Muslims make up 41 per cent of the population in Batley, a historic market and mill town in the Kirkless region which was the constituency of Labour MP Jo Cox who was murdered by a far-Right extremist in June 2016.   

The latest RE syllabus for the Calderdale, Kirklees and Leeds region, valid from 2019 to 2024, states that pupils should be able to ‘give reasons why visual representation of God and the prophets is forbidden – haram – in Islam’ by the end of key stage two – but does not specifically state whether teachers should show any of these images.  

National guidance from the Department for Education also does not specifically address cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad, but says RE must be taught according to ‘either the locally agreed syllabus or in accordance with the school’s designated religion or religious denomination, or in certain cases the trust deed relating to the school.’

Alumni from the school, which serves Halal-approved food in the canteen, include Innocent Smoothies founder Richard Reed, Ginetta Cars owner Lawrence Tomlinson and prominent 18th century theologian Joseph Priestley. 

Mr Kibble wrote in a letter to parents: ‘The school would like to thank the parents who contacted us on Monday, March 22 highlighting concerns with a resource used in an RS [religious studies] lesson that day.

‘Upon investigation, it was clear that the resource used in the lesson was completely inappropriate and had the capacity to cause great offence to members of our school community for which we would like to offer a sincere and full apology.’

He added that the school had taken ‘immediate action’ to investigate what had happened, including the removal of the resource from materials and the suspension of that lesson content from the scheme of work. 

Mr Kibble continued: ‘As an additional precaution, we will undertake a formal review of the RS curriculum to ensure no other resource or statement is inappropriate and take appropriate action as needed.’

The headteacher, who is thought to have been in his role at the school for three years, also told how staff were now investigating the matter ‘using formal processes and we are grateful for the support of the local authority’. 

With parents gathering outside the school, it sent them all a text message to say: ‘Due to the disturbance outside of school, if your child has not already set off please keep them at home as school will be starting at 10am.’ 

Later in a statement to ITV News, Mr Kibble said: ‘The school unequivocally apologises for using a totally inappropriate image in a religious studies lesson. It should not have been used.

** Are you a parent of a child at Batley Grammar School? Please email: [email protected] ** 

‘The member of staff has also relayed their sincere apologies. We have immediately withdrawn teaching on this part of the course, and we are revising how we go forward with the support of all communities represented in our school.

‘It is important for children to learn about faiths and beliefs, but this must be done in a respectful, sensitive way.

‘The member of staff has been suspended pending an independent formal investigation. The school is working closely with our governing body and community leaders to help us resolve this situation, and we continue to do so.

‘I know many of you will have questions but we are undertaking a formal process now and it is therefore very difficult for us to be able to answer any of those questions without jeopardising that, but we hope that we can reach a swift conclusion moving forward.’

The protesters had been demanding the resignation of the teacher, with organisers asking anyone attending to do so in their vehicle. Officers were guarding all school entrances but the protest appeared to be peaceful.  

How the death of teacher Samuel Paty in France led to a fresh debate about freedom of speech

Five months ago, French teacher Samuel Paty was beheaded on the street near his school in Paris by an Islamic extremist last October after showing cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad to his students.

The killing shocked the country and led to a fresh debate about freedom of speech and the integration of France’s large Muslim population. It also brought back memories of a wave of Islamist violence following the Charlie Hebdo massacre, sparked by the same cartoons in the satirical magazine in 2015 when 12 people were killed. 

Mr Paty was beheaded by an 18-year-old man of Chechen descent on October 16. The man was shot dead by police shortly after the attack. On March 9, a girl aged 13 admitted to telling lies about the teacher after an online hate campaign kick-started by her comments.

Mr Paty’s killing, which happened in the town of Conflans-Sainte-Honorine just outside Paris, sent shockwaves through France and reignited tensions in the country over the strict divide of church and state.

President Emmanuel Macron’s response defending the cartoons of Mohammed and Mr Paty’s actions sparked mass protests and boycotts of French goods in many Muslim-majority countries. Following Mr Macron’s comments, three people were killed in a terrorist attack at a Catholic church in Nice on October 29.

France has been hit by several major terror attacks in recent years. Its fiercely secular state was founded on the concept of laïcité, which separates state institutions – including schools – from the influence of religion.

In recent years, this policy has chafed with the reality of France’s multi-cultural population, particularly Muslims, some of whom feel they have been unfairly targeted by secularism policies including a ban on the wearing of some forms of Islamic dress in public spaces. Teachers are increasingly on the front lines of this debate.

In a video filmed by the Huddersfield Examiner, Mufti Mohammed Amin Pandor, a local prominent Muslim scholar who is director of the Peace Institute, told the crowd outside this morning: ‘What has happened in the school, we are appalled.  

‘Look at what we do as a community, and you’ll understand our stance. What has happened is totally unacceptable and we have made sure that the school understands that. The school is preparing a statement.

‘So our discussion is they prepared a statement and we weren’t happy with the statement, so we said no, the statement needs to be worded in this way. Some people think I tried to stop you guys from coming.

‘I don’t know where that information is from, so that’s between whoever has spread that rumour and Allah. So that’s nothing to do with me. This is a democratic country, you can protest. It’s your right to protest. 

‘Somebody called me last night and said there’s a protest for tomorrow, what should we do? I said we, as a group, have got a different stance, we want to work with the school. But if anyone wants to exercise their democratic right, you are here. So let’s move on. So what’s happening? 

‘The school is going to issue an apology, issue a statement. We have asked for amendments on the statement to say that they are very apologetic and they apologise. All the resources that were used have all been pulled out. 

‘The teacher has been suspended, the teacher has been suspended. Now then, you cannot sack him. You guys are professional, you know you can’t just dismiss someone like that, they have due process.

‘So he’s been suspended, OK, he’s been suspended. Now we’ve asked for an investigation, an investigation to be independent, and we have asked also that some of us get onto the investigation panel.

‘So this is what we’ve asked for. So whether they do it or not, we can’t force them, but they’re investigating. And then we’re going to work with the school to make sure in future things like this don’t happen.’

Commenting on the situation, a woman in her 30s with a child at the school said: ‘We are continuing to wait outside the school to try and speak to the headteacher, we want to hear what he has to say.

‘He needs to come out, explain what happened, apologise for it and tell us how he will make sure nothing like this ever happens again.

‘We feel like he’s hiding away and that’s not good enough, he needs to show his face. A lot of us have questions for him about how this ever happened in the first place, something clearly went very wrong. 

‘This image is so offensive to us and, in my opinion, there is no way it could have been part of the curriculum. What happened is very dangerous and we need answers.’ 

People hold a photo of Samuel Paty during a memorial march for him in Conflans-Sainte-Honorine on October 20, 2020

People hold a photo of Samuel Paty during a memorial march for him in Conflans-Sainte-Honorine on October 20, 2020

But Dr Paul Stott, associate fellow at the Henry Jackson Society think tank, told MailOnline: ‘Secondary schools have a duty to introduce pupils to contentious ideas and debates, as part of a process of teaching children how, rather than what, to think.

‘Schools in the UK must not concede policy to angry mobs at the school gates or to so-called community leaders.

‘The school’s censorious approach appears to be the exact opposite of the approach in France, where demands to sanitise classroom discussions by Islamist campaigners were resolutely rejected by the government, following the hideous murder of teacher Samuel Paty.’  

The Free Speech Union said it stands ‘in solidarity with the teacher at Batley Grammar who has been suspended at the behest of a censorious religious mob’.

Toby Young, its director general, said he is writing to the headteacher to object, copying in Education Secretary Gavin Williamson, and to the local Chief Constable asking him to make sure the teacher is ‘protected from intimidation’.

He told MailOnline: ‘Schools should be teaching children about the importance of free speech and for the headteacher to give in immediately to the demands of an outrage mob – apologising to them and suspending the teacher concerned – sets a very bad example. No one has the right not to be offended.’

Carole Pattison, cabinet member for learning at Kirkless Council, told MailOnline: ‘Batley Grammar is an academy school so the council has a very limited role in its running but we are aware of issues raised by parents this week.

‘We are pleased to see that the school has taken swift action to resolve the issues alongside the local community. They have apologised, taken immediate action on teaching materials and they are reviewing the relevant processes.’

A West Yorkshire Police spokesman said at about midday: ‘We are aware of a small demonstration at the school, which is still ongoing. Local neighbourhood officers are in attendance.’

Police cordoned off Carlinghow Hill in both directions and the 213 bus service was diverted via Batley Field Hill. 

Later, the force spokesman added: ‘The demonstration has now ended. We closed the road for a short time. No arrests or FPNs (Fixed Penalty Notices) issued.’

The school, which has 990 pupils, was rated ‘good’ in its last Ofsted inspection. It used to be an all-boys school until girls were admitted into its sixth form in 1988 and it then became fully co-educational in 1996.

** Are you a parent of a child at Batley Grammar School? Please email: [email protected] ** 

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