Enoch Burke, the Irish teacher who on religious grounds refused to employ ‘inclusive language’ at his place of work, is free to go after a months-long stint in Dublin’s Mountjoy Prison.
The Irish Times reports that the Irish Supreme Court arrived at its ruling on December 21st, noting that it was “open-ended,” in case Burke would again violate the court order that landed him in prison in the first place.
Burke, a self-confessed evangelical Christian, was brought before the court last summer. The court chose to detain Burke for having shown contempt of court by not adhering to its order, which stipulated he could not come near Wilson’s School, a Church of Ireland diocesan school in Co. Westmeath, where he taught.
The school put Burke on paid leave, pending a disciplinary procedure over his decision to confront the principal during a school event in June.
During the event, Burke became irate over the principal informing all teachers they should address a female transgender student with the student’s chosen masculine name and use the preferred pronoun ‘they.’ Burke claimed such compelled speech violated his religious rights and he continued to show up at the school.
It was this that led to the court order and, given that he consistently failed to abide by it, a jail sentence.
Burke has been in prison since September 5th. Judge Brian O’Moore said his case was not “unique” but one of the “very rare” ones where coercive imprisonment should stop, “at least for the moment.” He went on to say that Burke had mischaracterized his possible release as a “Christmas gift” since a coercive order is open to review at any time.
He added that Burke, who has not yet purged his contempt of court (by formally apologizing and possibly paying a fine), refused to leave the prison for “reasons which make no sense.” In one of the later court hearings, Burke had said that he would never leave Mountjoy Prison if, in doing so, he must violate his conscience and his religious beliefs and deny his God.
Yet, complying with the court orders (which simply requests he not visit the school again), the judge stressed, “does not in any way compromise Mr. Burke’s religious belief or require him to do anything in violation of those beliefs.”
Judge O’Moore has warned Burke that he would risk jail again if he persists in ignoring that injunction. He regretted the fact that locking Burke up had facilitated the latter’s transformation from an “ordinary teacher” to a “household name.”
The judge went on to accuse Burke of exploiting his incarceration for his own purposes, even to the point of actively prolonging his stay. The court, he added, “will not enable someone found to be in contempt of court to garner some advantage from that defiance.” The judge did not disclose the precise nature of that benefit to Burke.
According to the judge, the decision to allow Burke his freedom was motivated by the seasonal school pause: during Christmas holidays there are no classes at the school for Burke to disrupt. Mounting costs to the taxpayer was an additional reason.
Wilson’s School can request that Burke returns to prison or that his property be confiscated if he again fails to comply with court orders.
Burke still stands firm. He maintains that his “only crime is that I had a religious belief and that I would not sell it.” He said all he wants is a “just” upholding of his constitutional rights and that he could not participate in the process before the court “in any form.”
Claiming that both his suspension by the school and his imprisonment are unlawful, he has stated he will not leave prison until vindicated “by some higher court.”
It is as yet unclear whether, given his refusal, Burke could now be forcibly removed from prison.