Batley Grammar School in the north of England has apologised profusely and suspended its Religious Education teacher after he showed a cartoon of Muhammed during a lesson on blasphemy.
According to the Daily Mail, headmaster Gary Kibble issued a “sincere” and “unequivocal” apology, called the image “totally inappropriate” and said the school had “immediately withdrawn teaching on this part of the course”.
Presumably his mind had been concentrated by the large crowd of Muslim parents who had gathered outside the school since 7:30 a.m. to protest. It wasn’t until 2:30 p.m. that police were finally able to disperse the crowd — with no arrests or fines issued.
The school’s craven response may be understandable given that Muslims make up 41 per cent of local population in Batley, West Yorkshire, and given that the school itself, which serves halal-approved food in its canteen, has nearly three-quarters of its pupils from ethnic minorities — and the fact that a French schoolteacher who showed images of the Islamic prophet during a lesson on freedom of expression wound up publicly beheaded by a Muslim refugee.
But it’s also somewhat ironic given that the school’s motto is Forte non Ignave (Latin for ‘Bravely not Cowardly’); given its Christian heritage (founded in 1612 by the Rev William Lee); and given also that its most distinguished alumnus, Joseph Priestley, might not have enjoyed nearly so much success as a theologian, natural philosopher, and the discoverer of oxygen had it not been for the spirit of free inquiry which his alma mater now appears to have rejected.
The National Secular Society has described the parents’ protest — whipped up by local imams and Muslim activists — as “an attempt to impose an Islamic blasphemy taboo on a school”.
The Mail quotes Stephen Evans, its chief executive:
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.
Toby Young, director-general of the Free Speech Union, quoted in the same article, was similarly robust.
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.
Certainly, by caving to the mob, Batley Grammar School has set a very different example from the one reinforced under similar circumstances in France.
Five months ago, when Samuel Paty was decapitated by an 18-year old Chechen jihadist, rather than cower before the mob, the French authorities forcefully reaffirmed the nation’s commitment to laïcité — the concept of a secular state in which state institutions, including schools, are kept separate from religion.
French Prime Minister Jean Castex made a speech almost unimaginably robust by British standards.
According to the Sun:
“The enemy is here,” Prime Minister Jean Castex told MPs after a minute’s silence in the National Assembly.
“Radical Islam has infiltrated our society founded on tolerance.”
Paty was also posthumously awarded France’s highest civilian honour, the Legion d’Honneur.
It seems unlikely that anything similar will be offered to the hapless teacher at Batley Grammar School.