Reports of death threats against pupils who allegedly damaged a copy of the Koran are alarming, the Home Secretary has said.
Suella Braverman, who has spoken of her “deep concern” over the case, said it raised broader issues of free speech and promised to work with education officials on new guidance for schools to make clear that teachers “do not have to answer to self-appointed community activists”.
The Department for Education is already believed to be working with Kettlethorpe High School in Wakefield, West Yorkshire, after it suspended four students over the incident.
A copy of the Islamic text was brought to school by a Year 10 pupil reportedly as part of a dare last week and its cover was slightly torn while smears of dirt were found on some pages.
Headteacher Tudor Griffiths said initial investigations suggest there was “no malicious intent by those involved”.
Writing in the Times, the Home Secretary said: “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.”
Warning that respect for freedom of speech was “going in the wrong direction”, she said Islam should not expect a “special status” to protect the religion from disrespect.
“There is a long, ignoble history of that, which goes back at least as far as the furore over The Satanic Verses,” she said, in reference to the novel by Sir Salman Rushdie that led to death threats from Iran in the 1980s.
“It is rooted in a view — actually a bigoted one — that Muslims are uniquely incapable of controlling themselves if they feel provoked. And it has excused agitators using fear to force people to bend to their demands,” she said.
She writes in the paper that she is “not happy with the way non-crime hate incidents are recorded” and promised to soon announce new guidance for police.
Ms Braverman added: “It is high time for leaders — real leaders, not self-appointed hot-heads — to stand up for our free society. It is this country’s sacred promise to everyone who lives here, whatever their background.
“Every organisation that answers to me as Home Secretary will be in no doubt of where I stand.”
Humanists UK welcomed the response by Ms Braverman.
A spokesperson said: “This country repealed its blasphemy laws in 2008, and has a strong tradition of free speech and expression. Freedom of religion or belief is just as important a right, but like all others that right does not extend to interfering with others’ rights and freedoms.
“We hope the Government will now act swiftly to introduce the promised guidance and look forward to working with them towards this outcome.”