Batley Grammar row: Why are protesters lining up over Prophet Muhammad cartoon?

Gavin Williamson condemns protest at school where Muhammad cartoon shown in religious studies class

Protesters have gathered outside a school in West Yorkshire for a second day after a teacher showed students a cartoon in a religious education lesson that is seen as offensive by the Islamic faith.

Dozens of people stood outside Batley Grammar School, partially blocking the road, with calls for the teacher for be sacked.

The school was shut on Friday and switched to remote learning after it “unequivocally” apologised for showing “totally inappropriate” material to children, and said a member of staff has been suspended pending an investigation.

West Yorkshire Police were first called to the protest on Thursday morning and confirmed the road was closed for a short time, but no arrests were made and no fines were issued.

The Independent has looked at everything we know so far.

Why are people protesting the school?

Angry parents and community leaders reported that a teacher showed students a cartoon of the Prophet Muhammad published by French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo, during a religious studies class on 22 March.

The school apologised for the incident on Wednesday, but protesters began gathering outside the school on Thursday morning and stayed late into the afternoon.

Many protesters described showing the cartoon to students as “offensive” and “Islamaphobic” and called for the teacher in question to be fired.

Parents gathered outside the school on Friday for a second day of protests, with police again in attendance. The school has now closed and switched to remote learning.

In a letter to the headteacher, founder of Batley-based charity Purpose Of Life, Mohammad Sajad Hussain, said he was “deeply hurt” by the “insulting caricatures of our beloved Prophet Muhammed”.

However, the National Secular Society has branded the protest an “attempt to impose an Islamic blasphemy taboo on a school”.

Charlie Hebdo has long been a subject of controversy, coming under criticism for publishing cartoons considered by many to be racist or Islamophobic.

Its Paris offices were stormed by gunmen aligned to Islamic State in 2015, in an attack which killed 12 people.

How has the school responded?

The school’s headteacher, Gary Kibble, has apologised and confirmed the staff member in question has been suspended pending an investigation.

A statement said: “The school unequivocally apologises for using a totally inappropriate resource in a recent religious studies lesson. The member of staff has also given their most sincere apologies.

“We have immediately withdrawn teaching on this part of the course and we are reviewing how we go forward with the support of all the communities represented in our school. It is important for children to learn about faith and beliefs, but this must be done in a sensitive way.

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

“The school is working closely with the governing board and community leaders to help resolve the situation.”

How have the government and politicians reacted?

Education Secretary Gavin Williamson today condemned the “completely unacceptable” protests and said it is “never acceptable to threaten or intimidate teachers.”

He added: “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.”

Baroness Warsi, former chairwoman of the Conservative party, told the Today programme that she had spoken to pupils and parents over the past 24 hours, and “it’s obvious that many pupils were left distressed because of what happened”.

She added: “I think this is about children, it’s about child safeguarding and making sure the school look again, as should every school, to ensure that every pupil in their school is being taught in a way which creates a positive, unifying learning environment.

“Unfortunately, this matter has been hijacked by extremists on both sides to kind of create this culture war. “

Additional reporting by agencies

Register for free to continue reading

Registration is a free and easy way to support our truly independent journalism

By registering, you will also enjoy limited access to Premium articles, exclusive newsletters, commenting, and virtual events with our leading journalists

Please enter a valid email
Please enter a valid email
Must be at least 6 characters, include an upper and lower case character and a number
Must be at least 6 characters, include an upper and lower case character and a number
Must be at least 6 characters, include an upper and lower case character and a number
Please enter your first name
Special characters aren’t allowed
Please enter a name between 1 and 40 characters
Please enter your last name
Special characters aren’t allowed
Please enter a name between 1 and 40 characters
You must be over 18 years old to register
You must be over 18 years old to register
Opt-out-policy
You can opt-out at any time by signing in to your account to manage your preferences. Each email has a link to unsubscribe.

By clicking ‘Create my account’ you confirm that your data has been entered correctly and you have read and agree to our Terms of use, Cookie policy and Privacy notice.

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy policy and Terms of service apply.

Already have an account? sign in

By clicking ‘Register’ you confirm that your data has been entered correctly and you have read and agree to our Terms of use, Cookie policy and Privacy notice.

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy policy and Terms of service apply.

Register for free to continue reading

Registration is a free and easy way to support our truly independent journalism

By registering, you will also enjoy limited access to Premium articles, exclusive newsletters, commenting, and virtual events with our leading journalists

Already have an account? sign in

By clicking ‘Register’ you confirm that your data has been entered correctly and you have read and agree to our Terms of use, Cookie policy and Privacy notice.

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy policy and Terms of service apply.

Join our new commenting forum

Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies

Comments

Thank you for registering

Please refresh the page or navigate to another page on the site to be automatically logged inPlease refresh your browser to be logged in