A petition in support of a suspended teacher who showed students a caricature of the Prophet Mohammed has passed more than 50,000 signatures.
The Batley Grammar School teacher had apologised after showing the cartoon, widely reported as taken from the French satirical newspaper Charlie Hebdo, during a religious studies lesson earlier this week.
He was suspended on Thursday pending an investigation.
The school, in Batley, near Bradford, West Yorkshire, is facing calls to reinstate the teacher after a petition in support of him reached more than 50,000 signatures in two days, hitting the figure just after 2.00am on Sunday.
Protesters gathered outside the school gates on Thursday and Friday, claiming the school has not taken the issue seriously.
Speaking “on behalf of the Muslim community” on Friday, one protester said: “The teachers have breached the position of trust and failed their duty of safeguarding, and this issue must be addressed as a matter of urgency.”
Communities Secretary Robert Jenrick said suggestions that the teacher was in hiding were “very disturbing”, and branded the protests as “not right”.
“It must be right that a teacher can appropriately show images of the Prophet Mohammed,” he said.
However, Dr Alyaa Ebbiary, a researcher in Islamic studies at the SOAS University of London, disagreed with Mr Jenrick’s comments.
“From the majority Muslim community perspective it’s safe to say that showing images of the Prophet Muhammad would not be considered a ‘right’, but at best disrespectful, and at worst a provocation,” she told the PA news agency.
“For some pious Muslims, it’s so hurtful to the point of going beyond the realm of common decency – I know that’s hard for a Western liberal mindset to understand.
“The matter of depicting a Prophet in images is very problematic in the Islamic tradition, and so creating images, in and of itself, is considered disrespectful to someone held to be sacred.”
West Yorkshire Police said a number of complaints have been made in relation to the incident.
Officers attended both protests after dozens of people stood outside the school, partially blocking the road.
A police spokesperson said: “As might be expected given the high public profile of what has happened, there have been a number of complaints about various matters relating to this issue.
“These are being reviewed in more detail but this is an ongoing situation.”