Ireland Jails Teacher Who Refused To Use A Student’s Preferred Pronouns

The Irish teacher was jailed after refusing to stay off school grounds following his suspension for misgendering a student.

By Erika Hanson | Published

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Across the U.S., teachers are winning lawsuits against schools for not wishing to call students by their preferred pronouns. But in Ireland, educators are being jailed if they refuse to adhere to these requests. An Irish teacher is drawing global attention after he found himself recently put in jail for failing to adhere to a school’s request to direct a student by their preferred gender. 

Enoch Burke is a teacher of language, history, and politics at Wilson’s Hospital School in Westmeath, Ireland. But according to a report from Newsweek, he won’t be seen inside a classroom anytime soon, as he was arrested and sent to prison this past Monday. This stemmed from a case regarding his misgendering of a student that stems back months ago.

Because of Burke’s staunch religious beliefs, he previously refused to refer to one of his transitioning students as “they/them” as they wished. Initially, the district asked the Irish teacher to adhere to the student’s preferences. Citing his devotion to Catholicism, he not only refused to comply, but also berated the school for violating his constitutional rights, and forcing ideologies on staff and students.

Later in August, the school placed the Irish teacher on administrative leave, seemingly for his failure to comply with school procedures. The matter was taken to court after the teacher showed up in school anyways. Burke was ordered by the district and then a judge to remain off school grounds during the disciplinary investigation. According to reports, he admitted in the courtroom that he did not intend to comply with the ruling.

Following his refusal to consent to court orders, he was handcuffed and sent away to prison. The judge announced to him that he was to remain in prison until he would openly agree to stay away from the school. But despite this, the Irish teacher remains steadfast in his beliefs and feelings that the school and the judicial system are in the wrong. 

Burke points out that the school suspended him for “gross misconduct.” However, the Irish teacher asserts that religious viewpoints don’t equate to that. In the U.S. similar teachers have fought and won against districts’ demands requesting they call students an opposing gender than what they were born as. Oftentimes, freedom of religion is the ruling basepoint in these cases.

Earlier this week, a Kansas teacher was rewarded almost $100,000 after winning a lawsuit against a district that suspended her for misgendering a student. Last April, a professor in Ohio won his case and $400,000 in damages after he was reprimanded for not using a student’s preferred pronouns. But given the Irish teacher’s failure to abide by law, it is unlikely he will be rewarded similarly. 

irish teacher

The case of this Irish teacher sheds light on a growing debate brewing in schools over culture wars and gender identity. On one hand, some schools are looking to be more inclusive and supportive to students wishing to make these changes. But when districts start requiring teachers to use language they say goes against their religious beliefs, the fear is that these measures violate constitutional rights. 

The injunction regarding the Irish teacher was set to be further discussed in court sometime today. Whether or not he remains in jail after today is unknown. But given the situation and his feelings, it is likely the educator will not be returning to the same school anytime soon.