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13 Dec, 2023 14:17

Teacher to remain in prison over gender pronouns row

Enoch Burke was initially suspended last year after refusing to refer to a transgender student as ‘they’
Teacher to remain in prison over gender pronouns row

A schoolteacher in Ireland who argued that referring to a transgender student as ‘they’ instead of ‘he’ was against his Christian beliefs will spend the Christmas period in prison, a court has ruled.

Enoch Burke, formerly a history and German teacher at Wilson’s Hospital School in Co. Westmeath, was imprisoned for a second time in September. The teacher, who comes from an evangelical Christian background, had repeatedly failed to heed a court order barring him from entering the grounds of the school, from which he was fired last year.

Burke, who has been told by the court that he will be released from custody if he verbally agrees to comply with the order, said at a hearing in Dublin’s High Court on Tuesday that doing so would be “giving up” his religious beliefs and an endorsement of “transgenderism.”

Presiding over the court, Mr Justice Mark Sanfey said it had become clear that Burke had no intention of complying with the court order, and that that there was no justifiable reason to release him until he did so. The next review will be on February 27, Sanfey said, adding that Burke can secure his release at any point before then by saying he will abide by the order.

Last year, Burke was accused by Wilson’s Hospital School of gross misconduct after he objected to an email sent by school officials requesting that a transitioning student be referred to by a gender-neutral pronoun. It was claimed by school authorities that Burke had unprofessionally confronted the headmaster about the request.

Despite being suspended with full pay in May 2022 pending an investigation into his alleged misconduct, Burke continued to arrive at the school each day. He was fired the following August, and in May 2023, the Irish High Court found that the school had acted lawfully in its initial suspension of Burke – who it said had been “trespassing” on its grounds.

At a hearing last year, Burke told the court: “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.”

He added: “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.” However, the court has said that Burke is not being persecuted for his religious beliefs, but specifically for refusing to stop trespassing on school property.

Meanwhile, Burke has accused the courts of failing to recognize his constitutional right to religious freedom, and says that these rights were breached when he was asked to refer to a student by they/them pronouns.