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Teacher jailed for ‘refusing to call boy a girl’ in row over ‘Christian beliefs’

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A devoutly-Christian teacher who refused to comply with a court order has been jailed indefinitely.

Enoch Burke had been ordered by the court not to enter Wilson's Hospital School in Westneath after he refused to use a transgender pupil’s chosen pronouns.

He had refused to refer to the transitioning student as "they" rather than "he", in defiance of requests from the student and their parents.

READ MORE: 'I was bullied after coming out as transgender – it takes courage to be who I am'

The row led to Burke being suspended by the school board, pending the outcome of a disciplinary process.

But rather than stay at home on paid leave, he continued to turn up to work, sitting in an empty classroom.

Burke has repeatedly refused to back down and use a gender-neutral pronoun for the student.

“Transgenderism is against my Christian belief,” he said. “It is contrary to the scriptures, contrary to the ethos of the Church of Ireland and of my school.”

In court yesterday, he told Judge Michael Quinn: “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.

"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."

After being jailed for contempt of court, he 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.”

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Under Irish law, contempt of court carries an indefinite prison term. In theory, the offender can only be released if they apologise for the contempt, or if a judge finds another reason to end the sentence.

Rosemary Mallon, acting for the school’s board of management, told the judge that her client had no choice but to ask the court to send Burke to prison for breach of a court order.

“It is a coercive order we are seeking, not a punitive order,” she stressed. “We are simply seeking to have Mr Burke comply with the order."

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However, it seems unlikely Burke will change his mind.

He said: “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.”

In response, Judge Quinn said his ruling had no bearing on Burke's arguments regarding his religious belief or his suspension, but simply on his refusal to comply with the court order.

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