A teacher in Ireland was arrested after refusing to comply with an order to stay away from school following his suspension for refusing to agree to use transgender pronouns.
Enoch Burke, a teacher at Wilson’s Hospital School, had been placed on paid administrative leave pending a disciplinary review resulting from his opposition to being told by the school’s principal to address a transgender student with a new name and use the pronouns “they/them.” Burke protested the suspension by going to the school and sitting quietly in an empty classroom.
The school, which is affiliated with the Anglican Church of Ireland, then sought an injunction to keep Burke from attending the school, and the injunction was granted. Burke, however, continued to show up at school and sit in the empty classroom, leading to his arrest this past Monday.
Speaking before the court, Burke said, “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 continued, “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. 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.”
The school argues that the case is not about Burke’s religious beliefs but about his ignoring the board’s decision to suspend him pending the review. The school claims the principal has concerns about how Burke will act at school and has concerns for the transgender student and the student body. Burke says that the transgender student is not in his class and he has never had any direct interactions with the student.
Burke argues that the school cannot place a teacher on administrative leave except for cases of gross misconduct. He said it was “extraordinary and reprehensible that someone’s religious beliefs on this matter could ever be taken as grounds for an allegation of misconduct.” He claims complying with the order would be an admission that his beliefs were misconduct, stating:
“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.”
Earlier today, Mr. Justice Max Barratt, nonetheless, accepted the school’s stance that the case is not about Burke’s beliefs but merely a request for a further injunction, which he granted. He also ruled that Burke must pay the school’s legal costs. Burke will be imprisoned at Mountjoy Prison until he purges his contempt. Burke responded by stating:
“I will never leave Mountjoy Prison if in leaving that prison I must violate my well-informed conscience and my religious beliefs and deny my God. I consider it commendable that I chose to obey God rather than man.”
The school can try to argue that the case is not about Burke’s religious beliefs, but he never would have been suspended had he not objected to its request that he use transgender pronouns. There seems to be no indication that Burke is a criminal who is a danger to students, only that he is a Christian standing up for truth, truth that the supposedly Christian school should also espouse. By all accounts, until this moment, he has been an exemplary teacher for more than 10 years.
Burke is simply exemplifying civil disobedience. Those within the Civil Rights Movement used this strategy to draw attention to the impact of unjust discriminatory laws, whether it was black college students engaging in peaceful sit-ins at whites-only lunch counters in Greensboro, North Carolina, or Rosa Parks refusing to give up her bus seat to a white man in Montgomery, Alabama. In these instances, and others, protesters broke unjust laws but were willing to suffer consequences to further a higher and more moral cause.
From the world’s point of view, Burke has everything to lose by refusing to comply, but his reasoning for continuing to disobey is clearly based on his religious principles and his unwillingness to accept a lie to avoid the loss of his physical freedom. As he told the High Court, “I can be a Christian in Mountjoy Prison or I can be a pagan acceptor of transgenderism outside it.”
Wilson Hospital School is a private Anglican school and has the right to make personnel decisions however it wants, but to claim that the suspension is based on anything other than Burke’s refusal to use transgender-affirming language is suspect.
In America, such discrimination against Christian teachers has been tried but has routinely been found in violation of the First Amendment. These cases include gym teacher Tanner Cross, who prevailed in court after stating he would not lie to his students by using their preferred pronouns, and Pamela Ricard, a Kansas math teacher who was paid damages by Fort Riley Middle School after she was unconstitutionally fired for referring to a student by the student’s legal name and for refusing an order to lie to the student’s parents about their child’s social transition.
The Constitution protects freedom of speech and prevents the compulsion of viewpoints one disagrees with. The ongoing European assault on free speech and religious liberty won’t stay in Europe, however, as many seek to import hate speech laws to America. Already, Americans are being harassed and bullied for holding to their religious views on issues such as marriage and transgenderism. Big Tech censorship, in collusion with progressive activists and sometimes at the behest of government officials, is rampant and prevents Americans from sharing their faith-based beliefs in the virtual world. Without careful protection and a willingness to stand up, our freedom to speak God’s truth could soon be gone in the real world too.
Burke’s words of obeying God rather than men, likely referencing the apostles in Acts 5:29, ring true. In Acts 5, the apostles were brought before the Jewish leaders who had ordered them not to speak about Jesus. The leaders confronted them about their non-compliance, to which Peter and the apostles responded: “We must obey God rather than men.”
When given a command that violates God’s Word, Christians are to obey God. If Burke were to obey the school and further a lie, he would violate the Word of God. Christians must stand against the transgender lie and stand on the truth — no matter who tells us not to and how uncomfortable or costly the consequences might be.
Ready to dive deeper into the intersection of faith and policy? Head over to our Theology of Politics series page where we’ve published several long-form pieces that will help Christians navigate where their faith should direct them on political issues.