A Christian teacher in Ireland who refused to use the preferred pronouns of a transgender student has been suspended and is now in jail for contempt of court.
Enoch Burke was arrested on Monday for violating a court order to neither teach nor be physically present at Wilson’s Hospital School in Multyfarnham, County Westmeath, Ireland. The Church of Ireland-affiliated boarding school sought to have Burke imprisoned after he continued to attend the school after receiving a court order barring him from doing so, the Daily Mail reports.
“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,” Burke said after Judge Michael Quinn found him in contempt of court.
The trouble for Burke started when he refused to address a transgender student by the pronoun “they” rather than “he,” as requested by the student and the student’s parents in May. The school agreed to the request.
But Burke, a Christian, was placed on suspension after he refused to address the student with gender-neutral pronouns.
“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 told the judge Monday, according to the Daily Mail.
He explained that he loves teaching students German, history, and politics and encouraging debate.
“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,” 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,” he added, referring to his suspension.
“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 continued.
Burke described the school’s actions as “unreasonable, unjust, and unfair.”
A lawyer for Wilson’s Hospital School’s board of management reportedly said it was with a “heavy heart” that the administration suspended Burke and sought to have him imprisoned, but that his actions gave them no other choice.
“It is a coercive order we are seeking, not a punitive order. We are simply seeking to have Mr Burke comply with the order,” the counsel said.
“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.
According to the Daily Mail, the school’s counsel noted that Burke could make his arguments about religious liberty at court on Tuesday, when the injunction issued last week will be reviewed, and also at the school’s disciplinary hearing later this month.
Judge Quinn reportedly said his ruling was not based on the merits of Burke’s argument, but rather on whether he had willfully violated the court order.
He added that Burke could purge his contempt at any point by agreeing not to attend his school or attempt to teach there.
English broadcaster Piers Morgan called Burke’s imprisonment a “ridiculous farce.”
“Jailed for not wanting to call a singular person ‘they’ – what a ridiculous farce. How can anyone believe this is right in a supposedly free, democratic society?” Morgan tweeted.
He added that while he doesn’t agree with the teacher’s views, “for him to be jailed is … outrageous.”