Ricky Gervais mocked protests held outside a school after a religious studies teacher allegedly showed pupils a cartoon of the Prophet Mohammed.
The atheist comedian, 59, ridiculed those who gathered outside Batley Grammar School in West Yorkshire and called for the unnamed teacher to be sacked for blasphemy.
The teacher, 29, is understood to have shown his students the satirical drawing from French magazine Charlie Hebdo.
And his school was forced to close at the last minute today, as scores of men protested outside.
Responding to the outrage, Ricky Gervais wrote on Twitter: “Blasphemy? F***ing Blasphemy? It’s 2021 for f***’s sake.
“What next? People being punished for insulting unicorns?”
Mr Gervais, a staunch defender of free speech, is well known for his outrageous and often offensive jokes.
And he does not shy away from making scathing remarks about religion.
The actor said previously: “Imagine if you carried on believing in Santa and the tooth fairy into adulthood. And even killed & started wars over it. Haha. Imagine that.”
On another occasion he wrote: “Everyone has the right to believe anything they want. And everyone else has the right to find it f***ing ridiculous.”
For his latest remarks, The Office creator was backed by BBC broadcaster Nicky Campbell, who said Mr Gervais’ tweet was about the ‘lunacy of blasphemy’, branding it a ‘victimless crime’.
But another commentator said the tweet was “An insult to the Islamic community worldwide”.
It’s understood the teacher — a keen amateur rugby player described as a “good, burly Yorkshire lad” by neighbours — was rushed into hiding by cops last night.
He is reportedly under protection, along with his wife and their four young children.
Mohammed Hussain, chief executive of local charity Purpose of Life, called for the teacher’s “immediate” resignation – claiming he had “insulted two billion Muslims”.
“We cannot stand for that. We have to make our voices heard on it,” he said.
A protester speaking “on behalf of the Muslim community” read out a statement outside of the school this morning – and called for the teacher to face criminal prosecution.
“Use of these materials was done in a deliberate, threatening and provocative manner, leaving children concerned for their safety and wellbeing,” he said.
“This incident must also be investigated from a criminal perspective given it was clear attempt to stir up religious hatred.”
And he said protesters are calling on the “entire British Muslim community to review materials taught in their children’s schools”, especially if they relate to “offensive content, inappropriate relationships and sexual education”.
Another protester added: “We’re not inciting any hatred, we don’t want people to get injured or harmed, but, at the same time, you should learn from what’s happened and know these kinds of things will bring about people getting very emotional.”
But political leaders have backed the teacher, with one minister calling the row “disturbing” today.
Police liaison officers and private security guards are manning the school gates, but school chiefs have made the decision to close for a second day on Friday as protests continue.
The officers have been trained to deal with protests and community relations.
Dozens of people from the community are believed to have returned today, despite the teacher’s suspension and a public apology from the school’s head.
Parents at Batley Grammar School have said pupils were shown cartoons of the Prophet Muhammed as part of the school’s curriculum.
One parent told MailOnline their teenage daughter was shown the same controversial images in a PowerPoint presentation during a Religious Education lesson two years ago by another teacher.
And students have launched a petition trying to save the most recent teacher’s job, which has been signed by more than 12,800 people.
One student wrote: “We’ve watched our RS teacher defend the integrity of all religions and do not and will not believe he is racist in any way!”
It is not known if all the group of men outside this morning were parents, with some likely to be from local mosques.
This morning, just a few people stood alongside the walls of the school – but numbers have swollen since then.
Housing Minister Robert Jenrick said he was ‘disturbed’ to hear that the teacher has been forced into hiding.
“It’s very disturbing,” he said.
“That’s not a road we want to go down in this country, so I’d strongly urge people who are concerned about this issue not to do that.”
Education Secretary Gavin Williamson has called the “threats and intimidation” aimed at the teacher “completely unacceptable” – and said schools must be allowed to expose pupils to “challenging or controversial” issues.
“It is never acceptable to threaten or intimidate teachers,” he said.
“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.”
But campaigners have accused the Department for Education of amplifying divisions.
Mohammed Shafiq, chief executive of the Manchester-based Ramadhan Foundation, said the community rejected any violence or threat of violence, and said the incident “will not be hijacked by those who have an interest in perpetuating an image of Muslims”.
“It’s alarming that the Department for 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,” he said.
“There is still time for calmer heads among the department.”
Sajid Javid, the former Chancellor, is among the political figures to spoke out against the protests.
He said: “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.”
Teacher Samuel Paty was beheaded last October by an Islamist terrorist in France after showing his pupils a cartoon of the prophet.
In a letter to parents, Batley headmaster Gary Kibble, offered a “sincere and full apology” adding the picture shown was “completely inappropriate”.
School bosses held a meeting with a local Imam before suspending the teacher.
A senior police source said the teacher was receiving police protection in the wake of his suspension, the Telegraph reports.
The source said there had been a “series of meetings” inside West Yorkshire Police over the policing of the demonstration and how to handle the fall out including keeping the teacher safe.
“Officers have been especially assigned to him,” said the source.
“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 now.”
This story was originally published on The Sun and is reproduced here with permission