Irish schoolteacher in jail after mispronouning a student

Why is an Irish schoolteacher in jail after refusing to use transgender pronouns for a student who had transitioned from a boy to a girl?

The story of Enoch Burke, an Evangelical Christian who was teaching at a Church of Ireland school, has been on the front page of Irish newspapers.

His employer, Wilson’s Hospital School, made an application for his imprisonment. Its story is that Mr Burke is an obstreperous nuisance.

His story is different. He has refused to obey a directive from the school to its teachers to call a transgender student by a new name and to use the pronoun “they” instead of “he”.  

“I love my school,” Mr Burke told the judge in court. “I am here today because I would not call a boy a girl.”

“It is reprehensible that anyone’s religious beliefs could be taken as a ground for misconduct or gross misconduct,” he said. Transgenderism was opposed by all the major churches in Ireland. “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,” he said.

“It is not something I will do. It is in violation of my conscience. 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.”

The judge has jailed him until he “purges his contempt” by pledging to comply with an injunction to stay away from the school.

That could be a while. Irish refuseniks are a stubborn breed. The “Rossport Five” cooled their heels in jail for 94 days in 2005 for refusing to stop obstructing work on a Shell pipeline. Earlier this year three men went to jail for a couple of weeks for obstinate trespassing. Anyone seeking for confirmation of novelist Edna O’Brien’s words need look no further than Enoch Burke: “When anyone asks me about the Irish character, I say look at the trees. Maimed, stark and misshapen, but ferociously tenacious.”

This is not a story with a clear hero and a clear villain. The schoolteacher has planted his flag on the moral high ground, but he hardly deserves to be there. He interrupted a church service; he had an altercation at a school dinner; he continued to go to school despite an injunction. Are there not more conciliatory ways to persuade people?

On Twitter and in Irish newspapers, critics of Mr Burke insist that he has been jailed for contempt of court, not for misgendering a student. Narrowly construed, that’s true. Mr Burke is a pain in the proverbial.

But this imbroglio is bigger than Enoch Burke.

The real issue is that Ireland (and elsewhere) is in danger of creating a legion of Burkean nuisances by backing unscientific transgender theories in schools and other institutions. What evidence do they have for promulgating gender affirmation policies? Not much. In Sweden, Finland, and the United Kingdom medical authorities are questioning the wisdom of allowing minors to transition from one sex to another. Doctors in the United States are bitterly divided on the issue. The American Academy of Pediatrics has been accused of gagging debate on youth gender dysphoria.

The London Times has hailed the disbanding of the UK’s only youth gender clinic. “The damage done is immeasurable,” it declared in a stinging editorial about the Tavistock Clinic. “It naively confused sexual orientation with gender identity, accepted at face value all declarations by children that they were born in the wrong body and treated all complex problems through the prism of gender.”

Gender affirmation in schools may be against Mr Burke’s religion, but there is a growing feeling that it is also against good science and good medicine.

Serial nuisances are the inevitable consequence of compelling people to ignore reality and common sense. As Winston says in 1984, "Freedom is the freedom to say that two plus two make four". Denied that freedom, we have to expect that some people will rebel, even if their defiance is as petty as trespassing and contempt of court. Most people will keep their heads down, play the game, and quietly accept lamebrain ukases from their superiors. The ferociously tenacious few will not.

The tricky part is standing up for the truth while remaining civil. Unfortunately, that’s a lesson which Mr Burke has yet to learn. He should. It’s hard to change hearts and minds while languishing in jail. But Galileo went to jail, too, for being a nuisance, and history shows who was in the right.

The real losers in this stoush are his employer and the Irish courts. In the words of another famous Irishman, George Bernard Shaw, “Never wrestle with pigs. You both get dirty and the pig likes it.”


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