Enoch Burke : Persistence is Futile
Enoch Burke is a teacher who has been suspended from his job at Wilson’s Hospital Secondary School in Westmeath, Ireland, for refusing to use the preferred pronouns of a transgender student. He has also been ordered by the High Court to stay away from the school premises and stop teaching or contacting any students. But that hasn’t stopped him from showing up at the school gate every morning and trying to enter the building.
Burke claims that he is acting on his religious beliefs and that he cannot lie about the biological sex of his students. He says that he respects everyone’s right to identify as they wish, but he cannot go against his conscience and call someone by a name or pronoun that does not match their sex at birth. He also argues that he is being discriminated against for his Christian faith and that his suspension violates his right to freedom of expression.
But what about the rights of the transgender student who has been subjected to Burke’s refusal to acknowledge their identity? And what about the rights of other students and staff who have been disrupted by Burke’s repeated attempts to enter the school despite being banned? Also, what about the rights of parents who entrust their children’s education to qualified and respectful teachers?
A transgender student has a right to make a life choice that reflects their true self. They have a right to be called by their chosen name and pronouns – a right that so many in the past never had. And an overarching right to be treated with dignity and respect by their teachers and peers. The law gives every student the fundamental right to learn in a safe and supportive environment.
The Christian Bible teaches tolerance and acceptance of others who are different from us. It teaches us to love our neighbors as ourselves (Mark 12:31), to defend our beliefs with gentleness and respect (1 Peter 3:15), and not to judge others by outward appearance (John 7:24). It does not teach us to lie, but it also does not teach us to hurt others with our words.
Burke may think that he is standing up for his principles, but he is also causing harm and distress to others. He is not only defying a court order, but also defying common sense and decency. He is not only violating his professional duties, but also violating basic human dignity.
At the end of the day, Burke is a teacher. And as a teacher, he should be setting a good example for his students. He should be teaching them how to respect diversity and inclusion, how to communicate with empathy and compassion, how to follow rules and laws, how to resolve conflicts peacefully.
But, instead, he is teaching them how to be stubborn and defiant, how to disregard other people’s feelings and rights, how to break rules and laws, how to escalate conflicts violently. Burke should stop wasting everyone’s time and energy with his futile protests.
He should accept his suspension gracefully and move on with his life. He should leave Wilson’s Hospital School alone and let them continue their work without interference. Enoch Burke is a teacher who won’t quit. But maybe he should.