Teacher jailed following refusal to use gender-neutral pronouns at Irish school appears in court today to fight for his release
- Enoch Burke was jailed after breaching a court order not to teach at his school
- He had been suspended after refusing to use a student’s gender-neutral pronoun
- Mr Burke returns to court today to challenge school’s decision to suspend him
A teacher who was jailed after he refused to use a transgender student’s gender neutral pronoun and ignored his teaching suspension will appear in court today to fight for his release from prison.
Enoch Burke, an evangelical Christian, has spent more than a week in Mounjoy jail in Dublin after he refused to comply with an injunction that forbade him to teach at his Irish school.
Mr Burke, who teaches History and German, was suspended from Wilson’s Hospital School in Co Westmeath for refusing to address a transitioning student as ‘they’ rather than ‘he’, as requested by the pupil and their parents in May, and agreed to by the Church of Ireland school.
Mr Burke was later arrested on Monday last week and jailed for breaching a temporary court order not to teach at the school, or be physically present there.
The teacher had refused to stay away from the school on paid leave, Ireland’s High Court heard, and would sit in an empty classroom, declaring that he was there to work.
Today, Mr Burke is set to return to court to challenge the school’s decision to suspend him from work, arguing that there was no legal basis for the suspension.
Enoch Burke, an evangelical Christian, has spent more than a week in Mounjoy jail in Dublin after he refused to comply with an injunction that forbade him to teach at his Irish school. Pictured: Mr Burke arriving at the High Court in Dublin on September 7
Mr Burke, who teaches History and German, was suspended from Wilson’s Hospital School in Co Westmeath (pictured) for refusing to address a transitioning student as ‘they’ rather than ‘he’, as requested by the pupil and their parents in May, and agreed to by the Church of Ireland school
The teacher has spent ten days in isolation after he refused to take a Covid test at the prison, reports the Sunday World. Under current guidelines, inmates must quarantine for 10 days if they do not take a test.
Last week, Mr Burke appeared before the High Court and said that abiding by the injunction that forbade him to teach at his school after he refused to address a transitioning student as ‘they’ would ‘violate my religious beliefs and deny my God’.
Mr Burke told the judge last week: ‘I can be a Christian in Mountjoy Prison or I can be a pagan acceptor of transgenderism outside it.’
Mr Burke indicated to the court that he has no intention to abide by the injuction.
He told the court: ‘If this court so determines, I will never leave Mountjoy Prison if in leaving the prison I violate my well informed conscience and religious belief and deny my God.
‘It seems to me that I can be a Christian in Mountjoy Prison or be a pagan and respecter of transgenderism outside of it. I know where I belong.
‘My faith has led me to that place and will keep me there, God helping me.’
He told the court that if that choice was put to him ‘every hour of every day for next 100 years’, he would answer the question the same.
Mr Burke added: ‘This court is seeking to deprive me of my religious beliefs.’
He also claimed there was an ‘unlawful attempt’ to persecute him for stating his opposition to transgenderism, and that the court was depriving him of his liberty and dignity.
He added: ‘I have had much time to consider my actions and behaviour that brought me to that place and far from finding any instances of misconduct, let alone gross misconduct, I only found my actions to be commendable and that I had the courage to respond to the principal telling her that transgender was an abuse of children and a breach of my constitutional rights to free expression of religious beliefs.’
He told the court that what he was being asked to do was ‘contrary to the work of God’.
The teacher (pictured left arriving in court on 7 September) was suspended from his Westmeath school for refusing to address the transitioning student as ‘they’ rather than ‘he’, as requested by the pupil and their parents in May, and agreed to by the Church of Ireland school
Mr Burke claimed that the ‘demands’ of the principal forced him to participate in transgenderism.
He further claimed that this demand was ‘depriving’ him of his religious beliefs.
‘I can’t involve myself in that, it is manifestly wrong, according to my religious beliefs and the scripture,’ he added.
‘I have considered my actions to be commendable as I have the integrity to obey God rather than man.
‘My belief is that there are two genders, that is my religious belief and our constitution makes room for that belief.
‘It guarantees freedom to have beliefs.’
He added: ‘This court can’t deprive me of my religion and can’t deprive me of my dignity, it can’t deprive me of my faith in God and those are things I intend to hold fast to.’
Barrister Rosemary Mallon, counsel for the school’s board of management, said that it was ‘very clear’ from Mr Burke’s commentary that he does not intend to abide by the court order.
She said that he ‘knowingly and wilfully’ breached the order.
She also said that the school was left with no option but to pursue court action when he continuously attended the school.
Ms Mallon said the case was not about transgenderism.
She said she sought the interlocutory injunction because Mr Burke ignored the nature and effect of the lawful decision to suspend him on full pay pending the outcome of the disciplinary meeting.
The court was told that the case satisfies the test for prohibitory interlocutory relief, and that damages would not be sufficient.
The court was told that the school principal had ‘serious concerns’ about Mr Burke’s behaviour and his alleged conduct.
‘This was not about his beliefs. He may argue about his beliefs, but it is about his alleged conduct,’ Ms Mallon added.
She said the decision to place him on paid administrative leave was lawful and it had the effect of restraining him from attending the school premises.
‘I also say that what Mr Burke, in opposing this application, is doing is asking the court to interfere with the disciplinary process,’ Ms Mallon continued.
‘Mr Burke is asking the court to interfere and to say ‘don’t let the suspension have effect. Let me to sit in classroom and teach’.
‘That is interfering and it is not the function of this court to do at such an early stage of the disciplinary process.’
Mr Justice Max Barrett agreec to continue the interlocutory injunction, adding that the matter was not about transgenderism.
Teacher Enoch Burke (pictured on September 5 being brought into the Bridewell Garda station in Garda custody) was arrested last week for breaching a court order not to teach at his Westmeath school, or be physically present there
On Monday last week, Mr Burke was committed to Mountjoy Prison in Dublin by order of a High Court judge after he breached a temporary court order that he was to stay away from the school.
When Judge Michael Quinn made his ruling last week, Mr Burke 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.’
Mr Burke told Judge Michael Quinn: ‘I am a teacher and I don’t want to go to prison. I want to be in my classroom today, that’s where I was this morning when I was arrested.’
‘I love my school, with its motto Res Non Verba, actions not words, but I am here today because I said I would not call a boy a girl,’ he said.
He added: ‘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.’
Referring to his suspension, Mr Burke said: ‘It is extraordinary and reprehensible that someone’s religious beliefs on this matter could ever be taken as grounds for an allegation of misconduct.
‘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.’
He described his suspension as ‘unreasonable, unjust and unfair’. He added: ‘There has been a dumbing down of the seriousness of suspension. It is a serious step.
‘It has tarnished my good character and my good name, particularly in the profession of a teacher, where one is so close to a large number of members of the local community. It leaves a stain on what has been, for me, an unblemished teaching record.’
He asked how he could return to school and bow to something he believed to be ‘manifestly wrong’, which he also described as a ‘violation of my conscience’. Mr Burke told the court that he believed that ‘around this country, teachers are being forced to participate… they are being forced to use the pronoun ‘they’ instead of either ‘he’ or ‘she’.’
Enoch Burke (pictured centre with his brother Isaac receiving a SCCUL Enterprise Student Award in 2013) told Judge Quinn: ‘I am a teacher and I don’t want to go to prison. I want to be in my classroom today, that’s where I was this morning when I was arrested’
Rosemary Mallon BL, for the board of management, told Judge Michael Quinn that her client had no choice but to ask the court to send Burke to prison for breach of a court order.
Judge Quinn said he was not ruling on the merits of Mr Burke’s arguments regarding his religious belief or his suspension, but merely on the question of whether there had been a wilful breach of a court order.
He was committed to Mountjoy prison in Dublin.
The suspended teacher is one of 10 siblings, all of whom were home-schooled by their evangelical mother, Martina Burke.
The matriarch founded Burke Christian School in Castlebar, which she advertises in local newspapers.
The Burkes are a notable family from Mayo, who have previously campaigned and launched protests against the referendum on abortion, and marriage equality.
Some of the family have also been involved in high profile legal cases, including a high court appeal on religious discrimination.
During the pandemic, the family placed posters in the Castlebar Market Square and protested against Mayo University Hospital.
The evangelical family have also protested against gay marriage, and Castlebar’s Gay Pride parade, the Irish Independent reported.
Four years ago, Mrs Burke called LGBT+ training for school leaders ‘amoral’, arguing that it would ‘stigmatise modesty and inhibitions’.
And last year, four of her children, Ammi, Enoch, Isaac and Kezia Burke lost a legal case against University of Galway which stemmed from their views on gay marriage.
Martina Burke, mother of 10, is a qualified teacher and founded Burke Christian School in Castlebar
Pictured: Kezia Burke, Enoch Burke, Isaac Burke, and Ammi Burke in Dublin in 2021, outside the Four Courts. At the time, the siblings were fighting a religious discrimination case
They had been banned for life from becoming a member of its societies, after distributing flyers against gay marriage.
The siblings claimed that they were facing religious discrimination, however the college said that the ban was not about religion, the Irish Independent reported.
During Ireland’s abortion referendum, the Burkes were regularly protesting outside the constituency office of then Taoiseach, prime minister, Enda Kenny, the paper also reported.
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