Home secretary agrees to issue new ‘blasphemy’ guidance at schools

Posted: Mon, 6th Mar 2023

Home secretary agrees to issue new ‘blasphemy’ guidance at schools

The home secretary has agreed to issue new guidance on 'blasphemy' incidents at schools, following concerns raised by the National Secular Society.

In a letter sent last week, the NSS asked Suella Braverman (pictured) to work with the Department for Education towards "an improved understanding of blasphemy and its role in the wider threat posed by Islamism" in the context of state schools.

Writing in The Times this weekend, Braverman said schools should answer to "pupils and parents" rather than "self-appointed community activists".

"I will work with the Department for Education to issue new guidance spelling this out", she added.

Ms Braverman's article continues: "We do not have blasphemy laws in Great Britain, and must not be complicit in the attempts to impose them on this country. There is no right not to be offended. There is no legal obligation to be reverent towards any religion. The lodestar of our democracy is freedom of speech."

Her pledge comes in the wake of events at Kettlethorpe High School in West Yorkshire, where four pupils were suspended last week after one of them brought in a scuffed copy of the Quran. The episode was recorded as a "hate incident" by the police and one of the boys, who has high functioning autism, has been subjected to death threats. His mother said she had been left "absolutely petrified".

In a now deleted tweet, a local councillor had called for the boys to be investigated by the police and a local imam said "we will never tolerate disrespect of the Koran, never!"

Minister for schools Nick Gibb has also announced that his department is working with the school. Denouncing the death threats, he said: "There is no blasphemy law in this country and schools should be promoting the fundamental British values of the respect for rule of law, individual liberty and tolerance of those with different faiths and beliefs."

Kettlethorpe is the latest in a string of incidents in which de facto blasphemy codes have been invoked. The NSS letter said the events "followed a familiar pattern of so-called community leaders whipping up tension and peddling misinformation". In 2021, a religious education teacher at Batley Grammar School was forced into hiding after showing a picture of the Islamic prophet Muhammad in class.

The "inadequate response" from government had "emboldened fundamentalists seeking to exert pressure through intimidation", the letter added.

NSS: 'schools must be empowered and supported to stand up to religious fundamentalists'

NSS chief executive Stephen Evans said: "We welcome these robust comments from the home secretary. The proof of the pudding, however, will be in the new guidance issued by the Department for Education, which must empower and support schools to stand up to religious fundamentalists seeking to impose de facto blasphemy codes.

"Ms Braverman is correct that 'timidity does not make us safer; it weakens us'. This is the standard by which the new guidance must be judged."

Image: UK Parliament, CC BY 3.0

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