A teacher jailed after refusing to use a transgender student’s gender-neutral pronoun and ignoring his suspension from teaching returns to court today to challenge an injunction banning him from his school.
Enoch Burke has been suspended from his school in Westmeath for refusing to address the changing pupil as ‘she’ rather than ‘he’, as requested by the pupil and his parents in May and approved by the Church of Ireland school.
Burke was later arrested and jailed Monday morning for violating a court order not to teach or be physically present at Wilson’s Hospital School in Co Westmeath.
The teacher, an evangelical Christian, had refused to stay away from school on paid leave, the court heard, and would sit in an empty classroom and explain that he was there to work.
Burke will return to court today as the judge will review the court order barring the teacher from teaching at the school.
After Judge Michael Quinn made his decision, Mr Burke said: “It is insane that I am being led out of this courtroom to a place of detention, but I will not give up my Christian faith.”
Teacher Enoch Burke (pictured Monday being taken into Garda custody at Bridewell Garda station) was arrested yesterday morning for breaching a court order not to teach or be physically present at his Westmeath school
Enoch Burke (pictured) refused to address a student in transition as “she” rather than “he.”
Mr Burke told Judge Michael Quinn: “I’m a teacher and I don’t want to go to jail. 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’m here today because I said I wouldn’t call a boy a girl,” he said.
He added: “Transgenderism is against my Christian faith. This is against the scriptures, the ethos of the Church of Ireland and my school.”
Referring to his suspension, Mr Burke said: “It is extraordinary and reprehensible that any person’s religious beliefs in this matter could ever be used as grounds for an allegation of wrongdoing.
“My religious beliefs are not wrongdoings. They are not gross misconduct. You never will be. you are dear to me I will never deny her, never betray her, and I will never bow to any command that would require me to do so. It’s just not possible for me.’
He described his suspension as “unreasonable, unjust and unfair”. He added: “The severity of the suspension has been dumbed down. It’s a serious move.
“It has tarnished my good character and reputation, especially in the teaching profession where you are so close to many members of the local community. It leaves a stain on what has been an impeccable teaching record for me.’
He asked how he could go back to school and bend what he thought was “manifestly wrong,” which he also described as “violating my conscience.” Mr Burke told the court he believed that “teachers in this country are being forced to participate… they are being forced to use the pronoun ‘she’ instead of either ‘he’ or ‘she'”.
Judge Quinn said he was not passing judgment on the merits of Mr Burke’s arguments regarding his religious beliefs. Pictured: Wilson’s Hospital School in County Westmeath, Ireland
Enoch Burke (centre with his brother Isaac, who is receiving an SCCUL Enterprise Student Award in 2013) told Judge Quinn, “I’m 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, said Judge Michael Quinn that her client had no choice but to ask the court to send Burke to jail for violating a court order.
Judge Quinn said he was not ruling on the merits of Mr Burke’s arguments regarding his religious beliefs or his suspension, only whether there was a willful violation of a court order.
He was sent to Mountjoy Prison in Dublin.
The suspended teacher is one of 10 siblings who were all homeschooled 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 Mayo family who have previously campaigned and protested against the abortion and marriage equality referendum.
Some family members have also been involved in high-profile legal cases, including a Supreme Court appeal over religious discrimination.
During the pandemic, the family placed placards in Castlebar Market Square protesting Mayo University Hospital.
The evangelical family have also protested against gay marriage and the Castlebar Gay Pride march, the Irish Independent reported.
Four years ago, Ms Burke called LGBT+ school leadership training “amoral” and argued that it “stigmatized modesty and inhibitions”.
And last year four of their children, Ammi, Enoch, Isaac and Kezia Burke, lost a lawsuit against the University of Galway over 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 in front of the Four Courts. At the time, the siblings were fighting a case of religious discrimination
They had been banned for life from membership in their societies after distributing anti-gay marriage leaflets.
The siblings claimed they faced religious discrimination, but the college said the ban was not about religion, the Irish Independent reported.
During Ireland’s abortion referendum, the Burkes regularly protested outside the constituency office of then-Taoiseach Prime Minister Enda Kenny, the newspaper also reported.