Christian teacher who refused to use trans student’s name and pronouns jailed
A teacher suspended for misgendering a student has been jailed for contempt of court after threatening to defy a judge.
Enoch Burke was committed to Mountjoy Prison in Dublin on Monday (5 September) after telling a High Court judge he would not abide by a court order preventing him from attending his job at Wilson’s Hospital School while suspended. He claimed that staying away would violate his religious beliefs.
The Independent.ie reported that the evangelical Christian was suspended on full pay on 24 August pending the outcome of his disciplinary process.
It came after Burke clashed with the school’s principal and board of management over a request that teachers address a transgender student by their chosen name and they/them pronouns.
Despite being suspended, Burke continued to turn up for work at the Church of Ireland boarding school.
The school secured an interlocutory injunction from Ms Justice Siobhan Stack on 31 August to restrain the teacher from coming to its premises until 7 September.
Independent.ie reported Burke opposed an application from Wilson’s Hospital School for his imprisonment, saying: “I love my school. I am here today because I would not call a boy a girl.”
He told Mr Justice Michael Quinn: “It is not something I will do. It is in violation of my conscience.”
Ms Justice Miriam O’Regan ordered on Friday (2 September) that Burke should be arrested and brought before the court the same day, as he continued to attend the school.
Counsel for the school’s board of management, Rosemary Mallon, told Mr Quinn it was not looking to punish Burke, but “simply seeking to coerce him into abiding by the order to keep away from its premises”.
“It is with a heavy heart that the school has had to bring this application,” she added.
According to Independent.ie the counsel said Burke’s own account, as he represented himself, “satisfied the criminal standard of proof beyond all reasonable doubt that he had breached the order and would continue to do so”.
Burke confirmed that if he was not jailed he intended to turn up for work the next morning.
Mr Quinn said: “I order he be committed to Mountjoy Prison and remain therein until he purges his contempt or until further order of this court.”
Enoch Burke’s initial stages of incarceration will be spent in the jail’s C-Base and due to measures introduced to prevent the spread of COVID-19 he will not mix with the general prison until a negative test for the virus is returned, according to Independent.ie.
The school’s former principal Niamh McShane had reportedly told Burke it was part of the school’s admission policy not to discriminate against a student on any of the grounds set out in the 2000 Equal Status Act.
According to Independent.ie the school acknowledged Burke’s religious beliefs but expects him to communicate with the student in accordance with their and their parents’ wishes.
It comes after a service to mark the school’s 260th anniversary, on 4 June last year, reportedly saw Burke interrupt and demand the principal revoke the trans-inclusive guidance.
Burke claims he was wrongly suspended from his role, saying the disciplinary process used to suspend him was flawed and that the injunction should not have been granted.
“It is reprehensible that anyone’s religious beliefs could be taken as a ground for misconduct or gross misconduct,” he said.
Burke says acknowledging trans people for who they are is against his religious beliefs and contrary to the teaching of the major churches in Ireland.
He said changing his beliefs is not something he would do and would be “in violation of [his] conscience”.
Burke was arrested on Monday morning (5 September) by gardaí at the school, before being taken to the Four Courts in Dublin.
PinkNews has contacted the school for a comment.
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