‘I’m not looking for a Christmas gift’ Enoch Burke rejects chance to be freed from prison
17th December 2022
Teacher Enoch Burke appears poised to reject an offer from the High Court to release him from prison for Christmas, while the school he is barred from attending will be closed.
He told the court he did not want a ‘Christmas gift’ and he thought the court was merely trying to ‘salve its conscience’. Earlier in the week he had begged the court to release him from prison for Christmas – but refused to purge his contempt.
The evangelical Christian has been incarcerated in Mountjoy Prison since September. Mr Burke was sent to jail after refusing to obey a High Court order won by Wilson’s Hospital School in Co. Westmeath that he stay away from the school and not attempt to teach there while he is suspended on paid administrative leave.
His suspension followed his objection to a request from the principal to staff at the Church of Ireland secondary school that they call a transitioning student by their newly chosen name and the pronoun ‘they’.
Enoch Burke’s parents, Sean and Martina Burke with other family members pictured leaving the High Court on friday 16 december. Pic: Collins Courts© Provided by Evoke.ie
Mr Burke has said he could not comply with this this, as it did not accord with his Christian belief that there are only two genders, male and female.
Judge Conor Dignam said yesterday that he had considered Mr Burke’s request for release. The judge said: ‘I’m conscious that a particularly relevant circumstance is that the school is due to be closed for holidays at some stage next week.
‘The question which has occurred to me is whether Mr Burke’s detention should continue during that school closure period.’ He said both sides should consider the issue and make their views known to the court on Wednesday morning.
However, Mr Burke said he feared that would be a ‘waste of the court’s time’. He added: ‘I want to make it very clear to the court that I am not looking for a Christmas gift, and you, judge, have made it very clear that you view my actions on September 5 [in breaching the order] as being unlawful and in no way to be countenanced as anything good, or moral, or in line with the Constitution.
Enoch Burke. Pic: Collins Courts© Provided by Evoke.ie
‘I would just say that it is my great wish to spend Christmas at the family home around the fire, and indeed to have spent this week and next week teaching my students, sharing Christmas carols, like I did every year. But I am not looking for a reprieve and I do not wish to leave Mountjoy Prison as a criminal on reprieve, but rather to leave it justified in my cause, which is the cause of religious freedom.’
He stated he believed he had been in Mountjoy ‘solely because of the expression of my religious belief on transgenderism’. Mr Burke continued: ‘I cannot speculate as to the reason why the court is making the suggestion that it is now, but I fear that it is an effort by the court to salve its conscience, by extending to me some offer of clemency or mercy.’
Mr Burke said that to accept the court’s offer would be to dishonour God and to do a disservice to his fellow countrymen and to his students. He said: ‘I shouldn’t have to choose between Christmas and my religious freedom.’
Judge Dignam said the Wednesday date would remain in the court’s diary, to allow the school to express its opinion, but that Mr Burke did not have to attend if he did not want to. Earlier, the Court of Appeal confirmed it was on track to hear Mr Burke’s appeal on February 16 against the injunction won by the school to preventing him from teaching there.
Mr Burke has told the court that his appeal was targeted against the four High Court judges who made the orders that culminated in his continued stay in Mountjoy Prison. The Court of Appeal president, Judge George Birmingham, noted that he had received Mr Burke’s submissions and gave the school until late January to lodge its written view of the case.
He also agreed to give Mr Burke a transcript of all hearings involving the four judges in question. The High Court is making arrangements for a full hearing of the case between Wilson’s Hospital School and Mr Burke, concerning his suspension, to be heard as soon as possible.
Judge Brian O’Moore has previously timetabled the exchange of legal documents and said that he hoped to fix a date for the hearing of the action either before Christmas or early in the New Year. However, Mr Burke has said he wants his appeal against the injunction to be heard first.