A Christian teacher who refused to use a student’s preferred gender pronouns has been jailed in Ireland for contempt of court charges.
Enoch Burke was a teacher at Wilson’s Hospital School in Westmeath until he refused to call a “transitioning” biological male transgender student “they” instead of “he.”
The high school teacher was arrested and escorted by Gardaí Irish police to the High Court in Dublin on Monday.
The arrest was ordered by Judge Miriam O’Regan last Friday when Mr. Burke failed to attend court following an alleged breach of an injunction against him.
The court order stated that Burke could not teach at his Westmeath high school, or be physically present there, following his suspension for “misgendering.”
After High Court Judge Michael Quinn ordered the teacher to be sent to Mountjoy Prison, 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.”
Counsel for Wilson’s Hospital School’s board of management said it was with a “heavy heart” that it sought Burke’s committal to prison, but she said her client had been left with no choice as the teacher continued to attend the school, despite the court order which it had obtained last week.
The dispute began over his refusal to address a transitioning student as “they” rather than “he.”
The “preferred pronoun” was requested by the student and parents in May, and agreed to by the Church of Ireland school.
This escalated to his suspension on the day before the start of the fall term, pending the outcome of a disciplinary process.
He had refused to remain away from the school on paid leave for that suspension, the court heard.
Burke reportedly sat in an empty classroom, declaring that he was there to work.
As he addressed the court, Burke 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.”
Burke, who teaches German, history, and politics, as well as debating, said he loved his students.
“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.”
“Transgenderism is against my Christian belief,” he added.
“It is contrary to the scriptures, contrary to the ethos of the Church of Ireland and of my school.”
Referring to his suspension, 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.”
“There has been a dumbing down of the seriousness of suspension,” he added.
“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.”
Burke said he had a wonderful relationship with his pupils, who knew him as a man of “professed morals and convictions.”
He asked how he could return to school and bow to something he believed to be “manifestly wrong.”
He also described surrendering to the transgender agenda as a “violation of my conscience.”
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’.”
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.
“It is a coercive order we are seeking, not a punitive order.
“We are simply seeking to have Mr. Burke comply with the order.
“…Mr. Burke is knowingly in breach of this order, he is therefore in contempt and he has made it clear that if he is not committed to prison he will attend at the school [today], and the concerns of the school regarding the ongoing disruption to the students remain,” she added.
She noted that Burke could make his arguments at court this week when the injunction obtained last week is due to be reviewed, and at the school’s disciplinary hearing this month.
Judge Quinn said he was not ruling on the merits of 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 said that Burke could purge his contempt at any stage, by agreeing to the order not to attend the school or attempt to teach there.
Burke was accompanied to court by four gardaí, his father Seán and brother Isaac.
Burke will remain in Mountjoy Prison until he purges his contempt or until further order of the High Court.