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Teacher suspended for not using trans pronouns jailed after violating court order

Pronouns, gender
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An Evangelical teacher at a church-run boarding school in Ireland who refused to use gender-neutral pronouns to address a trans-identified student was arrested for continuing to show up to work despite his suspension.

Enoch Burke, who teaches German, history and politics at Wilson's Hospital School in County Westmeath, Ireland, was arrested Monday for breaching a court order barring him from returning to the Church of Ireland-affiliated secondary school while on paid leave. Burke was detained at Mountjoy Prison in Dublin, Ireland. 

The teacher was suspended on Aug. 24 pending the outcome of a disciplinary process after he refused the request of the principal and the school's board for teachers to use the pronoun "they" instead of "he" for a trans-identified student. 

According to The Independent, Burke continued showing up for work, leading the school to seek an interlocutory injunction last Wednesday that barred him from going to the school until Sept. 7. Despite the order, Burke's continued presence at the school led Justice Miriam O'Reagan to order Burke's arrest last Friday. 

In response to Burke's arrest, LifePetitions launched a petition calling for Burke's release. As of Wednesday afternoon, the petition has garnered more than 7,200 signatures.

"I am here today because I said I would not call a boy a girl," Burke proclaimed before the High Court Monday, according to the petition. "Were I to obey the order of the board of management and the order of the court, I would have to accept that sticking by my belief in male and female is wrong."

"It is not something I will do. It is in violation of my conscience," Burke added. "Were I to go into the school and bow to something I know to be manifestly wrong, it would be a shame and a disgrace on my part."

According to Monday's court order, Burke must remain in custody "until he purges his contempt or until further order of this court."

"I cannot purge my contempt if it means holding my Christian beliefs in contempt," Burke said. 

"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," he added, according to The Daily Mail. "Transgenderism is against my Christian belief. It is contrary to the scriptures, contrary to the ethos of the Church of Ireland and my school."

Burke believes that its "reprehensible that someone's religious beliefs on this matter could ever be taken for grounds as an allegation of misconduct."

He said his religious beliefs "are not misconduct" nor "gross misconduct" and declared that he will "never deny them and betray them, and I will never bow to an order that would require me to do so."

"It's just not possible for me to do that," Burke insisted, saying his suspension is "unreasonable, unjust and unfair."

"There has been a dumbing down of the seriousness of suspension," he said, adding that it has left "a stain" on an "unblemished teaching record." 

"[The suspension 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," Burke asserted.

Rosemary Mallon, the counsel representing Wilson's Hospital School, defended her client's request to ask the court to send Burke to prison.

"We are simply seeking to have Mr. Burke comply with the order," she stated. "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 of the students remain."

Burke is not the first teacher to face punishment for refusing to use a trans-identified student's preferred pronouns.

In the United States, Peter Vlaming, who taught French in Williamsburg, Virginia, lost his job in 2018 over his refusal to use male pronouns to address a trans-identified female student. Like Burke, Vlaming cited his religious faith as the reason why he could not do so.

In Kansas, teacher Pamela Ricard recently won a $95,000 settlement from the school district that she taught in until her recent retirement. Ricard was suspended for declining to address a trans-identified student by their preferred name, which reflected their new gender identity.

In Loudoun County, Virginia, physical education teacher Tanner Cross was suspended last year for speaking at a school board meeting in opposition to a proposed policy that has since passed requiring teachers to use the preferred names and pronouns of trans-identified students. Cross was reinstated after the courts intervened. 

Ryan Foley is a reporter for The Christian Post. He can be reached at: ryan.foley@christianpost.com

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