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Comedian Ricky Gervais has joined the chorus of condemnation against the suspension of a British teacher for showing a caricature of the Islamic prophet Mohammed, questioning whether people will be “punished for insulting unicorns” next.

The creator of The Office and famed atheist took to social media on Friday to rail against the Islamic protesters who are calling for the firing of a Batley Grammar School teacher.

“Blasphemy? Fucking Blasphemy? It’s 2021 for fuck’s sake. What next? People being punished for insulting unicorns?” Gervais wrote.

The British comedian has long been an advocate for free speech and has expressed disdain for cancel culture mobs. Gervais has also frequently taken aim at religion in general, writing in 2012: “Everyone has the right to believe anything they want. And everyone else has the right to find it fucking ridiculous.”

British actor turned London mayoral candidate Laurence Fox also criticised the Islamic campaign against the teacher, writing: “I personally find blasphemy distasteful and disrespectful, but as always, I defend your right to take the piss out of my God and in equal measure my right to take the piss out of yours. These are the values Britain holds dear.”

Protests have been held outside the local grammar school in Bately since Thursday after it was revealed that a teacher had shown his class a cartoon of Mohammad, reportedly during a class on blasphemy. The teacher, who was suspended from the school over the incident, has since gone into hiding and is under police protection after a local Muslim group shared his identity online.

Mohammed Hussain of the Purpose of Life charity — which published the teacher’s identity online — had accused the teacher of “terrorism” and “insulting Islam”.

Explaining after he was accused of failing to condemn Islamist beheadings on a radio appearance, Hussain told the Daily Mail: “I was shocked and upset at the questions. I couldn’t understand why I was being asked about beheadings.

“I was trying to say that I was against beheadings and that the Prophet said that if you were to kill one innocent person you were killing Mankind. I am against any type of violence in the name of Islam and do not support the beheadings that have taken place.”

There have been comparisons made between the Batley protest and the campaign against French geography and history teacher Samuel Paty, who was beheaded by a Muslim refugee last October. His death came after an online hate campaign was conducted by a pupil’s father, amplified by a Parisian mosque, which posted his identity online after Paty showed pupils Charlie Hebdo cartoons of Mohammed during a lesson on freedom of expression.

Local Labour MP Tracy Brabin defended the school’s move to suspend the teacher, writing in a statement: “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.”

A petition organised by pupils at the Batley school has called for the reinstatement of the teacher. To date, the petition has received over 50,000 signatures.

“The [Religious Studies] Teacher was trying to educate students about racism and blasphemy. He warned the students before showing the images and he had the intent to educate them. He does not deserve such large repercussions. He is not racist and did not support the Islamiphobic [sic] cartoons in any manner. This has got out of hand and due to this, students have missed out on lessons because of ‘peaceful’ protestors,” the petition said.

“Them blocking off entrances did not allow teachers to work or enter the school. Think of those who would be affected due to this lesson spiralled out of hand? Teachers, The School, The Community, Children, the RS Teacher’s family and his own financial stability since he will no longer be able to land a job due to the fact that his reputation has been tarnished,” the pupils’ petition added.

The protesters have vowed to continue demonstrating outside the school until the teacher is fired from his position.

Follow Kurt Zindulka on Twitter here @KurtZindulka

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