A teacher was sentenced to Mountjoy prison for contempt of court after refusing to use gender-neutral pronouns for a transgender student.
Enoch Burke was arrested yesterday for violating a court order not to teach or be physically present at his Westmeath school.
The conflict started when he refused to address a transitioning student as ‘they’ rather than ‘he,’ as requested by the student and their parents in May and agreed to by the Church of Ireland school.
This led to his suspension the day before the start of the autumn semester, pending the outcome of a disciplinary hearing.
Mr Burke stated after Judge Michael Quinn’s decision, ‘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.’
‘I am a teacher, and I do not want to go to prison,’ Mr Burke told Judge Quinn. ‘I want to be in my classroom today, that’s where I was this morning when I was arrested.’
He said he adored his students, to whom he teaches German, history, politics, and debate. ‘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 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.’
‘It has tarnished my good character and my good name, particularly in the profession of a teacher, where one is so close to a large number of members of the local community. It leaves a stain on what has been, for me, an unblemished teaching record.’
He asked how he could return to school and bow to something he believed to be ‘manifestly wrong’, which he also described as a ‘violation of my conscience.’
Mr Burke told the court that he believed that ‘around this country, teachers are being forced to participate… they are being forced to use the pronoun “they” instead of either “he” or “she”.’
On the other hand, Rosemary Mallon BL, for the board of management, told Judge Michael Quinn that her client had no choice but to ask the court to send Burke to prison for breach of a court order.