Christian teacher who was suspended for pronoun ‘violation’ sent to Irish prison

Irish teacher Enoch Burke was arrested on Monday for violating a court order to stay away from his Westmeath school after his refusal to use a student’s preferred gender-neutral pronouns.

Burke was brought before Judge Michael Quinn, who found him in contempt of court for continuing to attend the school though he’d been ordered not to and sent him to Mountjoy prison.

Having heard the ruling, the teacher of German, history, politics and debating said, “It is insanity that I will be led from this courtroom to a place of incarceration, but I will not give up my Christian beliefs.”

The ruling that barred Burke from the classroom stemmed from his use of the word ‘he’ for a male student. The student and their parents had reportedly asked him to use ‘they’ when referring to them, as they were in the process of transitioning, according to Daily Mail. When Burke obstinately persisted to use ‘he’ and ‘him’, the family sought and obtained last week’s court order.

There is plenty of irony in the case. The Westmeath school is run by the Church of Ireland, and the teacher is a Christian, but the religion of the day trumped all of that. Further, the school’s motto is Res Non Verba, which translates, as “actions not words.” And yet the defendant is in jail after breaching an order over his use of a word.

“I love my school, with its motto Res Non Verba,” said Burke, “but I am here today because I said I would not call a boy a girl.”

Mr. Burke called his suspension “unreasonable, unjust and unfair” but did not address how his Christian beliefs led him to show up for work in violation of a court order which is what ultimately landed him in prison. He continued to arrive at the school though he was on paid leave while suspended.

He had plenty to say, though, about the foolishness surrounding the case and his insistence on adhering to his orthodox Christian faith.

“Transgenderism is against my Christian belief. It is contrary to the scriptures, contrary to the ethos of the Church of Ireland and of my school. It is extraordinary and reprehensible that someone’s religious beliefs on this matter could ever be taken as grounds for an allegation of misconduct.”

Burke insisted, “My religious beliefs are not misconduct. They are not gross misconduct. They never will be. They are dear to me. I will never deny them and never betray them, and I will never bow to an order that would require me to do so. It is just not possible for me to do that.”

Rosemary Mallon BL, arguing for the board of management in the case, would not square off with Burke in a debate about religious freedom, telling Judge Quinn that her client was left with no choice but to seek Burke’s imprisonment.

“Mr Burke is knowingly in breach of this order, he is therefore in contempt and he has made it clear [today] that if he is not committed to prison he will attend at the school, and the concerns of the school regarding the ongoing disruption to the students remain,” she argued.

Burke made a point that could be lost in the bluster of this case.

“There has been a dumbing down of the seriousness of suspension,” he said. “It is a serious step. It has tarnished my good character and my good name” and left “a stain on what has been, for me, an unblemished teaching record.”

Burke said that he loves his students, who have known him as a man of “professed morals and convictions”. He decried his belief that “around this country, teachers are being forced to participate” in the “manifestly wrong” spirit of the age, “being forced to use [preferred pronouns].”

Burke will have another chance to make his arguments at court, as there will be a review of last week’s injunction at the school’s disciplinary hearing this month.

Judge Quinn clarified that the only question being addressed by the court was Burke’s willful breach of a court order, not the merits of his arguments on religious freedom. He said that the teacher could purge his contempt at any stage, by agreeing to the order not to attend the school or attempt to teach there.


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