Teacher jailed in row over use of pronouns for transgender pupil

A teacher who refused to use gender-neutral pronouns for a transgender student was jailed in Ireland for contempt of court.

Enoch Burke, an evangelical Christian, was put on paid suspension by Wilson’s Hospital School in Co Westmeath for refusing to call the pupil “they”.

“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 told the judge before he was jailed for breaking a court order not to go or try to teach at the Church of Ireland school.

The court heard on Monday that Burke had refused to stay away from the school on paid leave during the disciplinary process. Instead, he would sit in an empty classroom and declare he was there to work.

The judge told the History and German teacher he must stay in prison until he agrees to comply with the terms of the injunction, which would purge his contempt of court.

Burke said: “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 insanity that I will be led from this courtroom to a place of incarceration, but I will not give up my Christian beliefs.”

Lawyers for the Church of Ireland school said it was forced with “a heavy heart” to take action leading to Mr Burke’s jailing after he broke the court order it secured last week.

Earlier Burke, who represented himself, had told the court he would return to the school, despite being arrested there on Monday.

Judge Michael Quinn said he was only ruling on whether there had been a wilful breach of the court order, which is meant to prevent disruption at the school at the start of the new term, rather than on Burke’s beliefs.

“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 said in his defence.

He said it was “extraordinary and reprehensible” that his religious beliefs could lead to his suspension by the school.

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.

“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 told the court.

The school has said it is abiding by Ireland’s 2000 Equal Status Act by not discriminating against any student and was focused on the welfare of its pupils.

Burke will be back in court on Wednesday, when the injunction is to be reviewed.

Leave a Comment