Evangelical Christian mother tells judge he will ‘stand before a higher judge and God almighty will put this matter straight’
Enoch Burke has begged a judge to release him from prison, but the request was rejected because of his ongoing refusal to comply with High Court orders.
During a hearing today, the schoolteacher three times asked Mr Justice Conor Dignam: “I would beg of this court to free me from this prison”.
However, the judge said that he had “no alternative” but to not release Burke because he did not propose to purge his contempt.
The decision prompted an angry response from members of his family, who are evangelical Christians, with his mother Martina shouting up at the bench: “There is a higher judge that you and your fellow judges will stand before and God almighty will put this matter straight”.
Her comments are the latest in a series of clashes between members of the Burke family and the judiciary, which have prompted warnings and criticism from judges about their behaviour.
Both Burke and his mother had to be removed from a Court of Appeal hearing last October while Burke was criticised by another judge last month for making “scurrilous allegations” against members of the judiciary.
The schoolteacher now faces the prospect of spending Christmas in prison having been in jail since September 5 for breaching temporary court orders restraining him from attending or attempting to teach students at Wilson’s Hospital School, in Multyfarnham, Co Westmeath.
The orders were secured after he kept turning up for work despite being suspended after publicly clashing with management over a request to address a transgender child by a new name and to use the pronoun “they” instead of “he”.
Burke claims that he could not comply with the request due to his religious beliefs and that the orders breach his constitutional rights to profess his religious beliefs.
He is currently awaiting the hearing of a challenge to various orders in the Court of Appeal and has repeatedly refused to purge his contempt.
Burke appeared before Mr Justice Dignam today via video link from Mountjoy and was given a further opportunity to comply with the court orders. However, he again refused.
“I believe in the courts system and I believe in the administration of justice. But when I am commanded by the court to accept an order that denies me my religious freedom, I cannot in all good conscience comply with that,” he said.
“The fact of the matter is I was requested by principal Niamh McShane that it was expected of me to participate in transgenderism and to call a 15-year-old boy ‘they’ or ‘a girl’.
“It is something I cannot do in all good conscience as it goes against my religious beliefs.
“The Constitution protects that religious belief and it gives me the right to profess and practice that belief before almighty God.
Burke continued: “I am not a thief. I am not a murderer. I am not a drug dealer. The reason that I am in prison today is because I refused to leave the school I worked in when I was suspended solely on account of my religious beliefs.
“Judge, I would appeal to you today. I don’t want to be here. You also have a duty and a responsibility to the constitution.
“I would beg of the court to free me from this prison. It is Christmastime. We celebrate the birth of Christ. That is a religious belief, the perhaps the main religious belief in the world.
“We celebrate and enjoy it at this time, and yet the issue that is in the court’s hands is that I am in prison now because of my religious belief.”
Burke has repeatedly sought to portray his imprisonment as being due to his beliefs on transgenderism.
However, another High Court judge, Mr Justice Max Barrett, has said the matter is not about transgenderism but rather his refusal to obey the terms of the suspension and the court-ordered injunction
Mr Justice Dignam said he was “not going to debate” the matter with Burke or his family “as to what the case is or isn’t about”.
The judge said there was a valid and subsisting court order and he could not grant Burke’s release after the teacher had indicated his position.
Burke’s father Sean stood up following the ruling and addressed the judge.
“He has an unblemished record as a teacher. He is in prison because he would not give up his Christian belief which I as a father brought him up to believe and which is consistent with the scriptures, the bible that is on your bench, from Genesis to Revelations,” he said.
“The male and female. It is not some crazy belief he has. It is there as clear as crystal. That is what my son is in prison for.”
Martina Burke than began shouting at the judge, saying her son was “not a criminal”, “should not be in prison” and that the decision was “an absolute disgrace”.
She continued: “There is a higher judge that you and your fellow judges will stand before and God almighty will put that matter straight”.
Earlier, Burke’s sister Ammi, who told the court she was his “legal advisor”, complained to the judge that her brother had not been produced to the court in person.
She and her brother also queried why the matter was not listed before Mr Justice Brian O’Moore, the judge who has charge of the case.
Mr Justice Dignam said Mr Justice O’Moore had made the direction that Burke appear by video link and he would “not trespass on that”.
He also said it was “not at all unusual” for the hearing to be allocated to another judge.
“I have an impression that what is sought to be raised is some sort of cloud of suspicion. That is not the case,” the judge said.
Burke denied he was trying to raise suspicion.
A ruling is due this week on an application by Burke to stay the legal action being taken against him by Wilson’s Hospital School, pending the outcome of his appeal against various High Court orders to the Court of Appeal.