Enoch Burke: Women’s rights and workers’ rights at stake
Gearóid Ó Loingsigh
28 January 2023
Enoch Burke has now become a household name, thanks to a controversy surrounding the mandated use of they/them pronouns and a name he was instructed to use for a child, by management at the school where he worked. The school in question is a Church of Ireland mixed boarding school charging 9,500 euros per year.
It is important to get the background to this story in order to properly understand the issues at stake. It is true that he is a right-wing evangelical zealot and no friend of women’s causes, but the hill he has chosen to die on is one that is of great importance to women’s rights and the place and role of women in society as well as worker’s rights in general, though he himself is a not a champion nor defender of either.
His twitter feed rails against covid restrictions, the left, homosexuality and witchcraft of all things and he is the author of a book entitled The Hedonism and Homosexuality of John Piper and Sam Allberry, those two being part of a discussion amongst Calvinists about faith and good works, from what can be gleaned on the internet, placing Burke to the right of many evangelicals. The title itself would cause anyone to grimace.
As is now common in some parts of the world, a child requested that he be addressed by a new name to reflect his illusory identity and be referred to, when not directly addressed, as they/them rather than the usual and correct grammatical use of he/him. An email was sent to staff informing them of this, Burke replied by email stating that this was a violation of his religious beliefs. The fact that it is an elite fee-paying school where the students are clients above all else, may have been a factor in their decision. Burke replied that he would not comply and tried to challenge management over this issue. It was his way of challenging them that would used by the school to justify his suspension and the court cases. The court case and contempt hearings are to some degree background noise. They are not the essence of the case.
There are two points to the case, one is the imposition of trans ideology and the other is workers’ rights.
The child requested a change in usage of pronouns and name. There is no law in Ireland that mandates the usage of what are now laughably called preferred pronouns. They are not preferred they are imposed breaking with the grammatical rules and common understanding and also aim to break with our understanding of reality. They are also part of a wider campaign to subvert and undermine women’s rights. Burke’s refusal to go along with this nonsense should have been the end of the matter. Instead, the school stood its ground and decided to bring disciplinary proceedings against him, theoretically because of the way he challenged them, but in reality because he refused to bow down on the issue. No dissent on the issue of pronouns and trans rights is tolerated by the great and the good. It is not that long ago that various organisations including Amnesty International signed an open letter calling for the suppression of the views of those women who “defended biology”.(1) It is not different. It is an attempt to enforce a view that conflicts with material reality.
Burke is a religious zealot and a thoroughly objectionable character but the points raised in his case apply to all teachers. Can teachers be forced to comply with the pronoun nonsense and be force to teach as fact that you can change sex, or that there is a third gamete i.e. non binary and this gamete comes into existence through sheer will power and the taking of a decision? The answer should be no. What will happen to teachers who refuse? And this is where the case has real implications for teachers.
Recently the unions who had remained silent on the issue have been forced by circumstances to speak up. They have expressed concern at the fact he was dismissed as dismissals normally involve gross misconduct. They are concerned at the speed with which he was dismissed.
You would wonder at the speed at which the dismissal took place. It took place the day after the disciplinary hearing, which is very unusual. If this goes to an appeal, you can expect that every aspect of the process will be examined in minute detail.(2)They were also concerned at his dismissal as such, as it was not normal. Indeed, and when the next teacher stands up on the issue, what will happen? One of the notable things about the stand-off is that whilst the Irish Times claims that students wrote a letter to Burke about the disruption to school life caused by him turning up and the heavy media presence, there have been no statements from either other teachers or parents. One would expect the teachers and the parents to say something if they were fully in support of the school’s position. They haven’t done that. No one has spoken out against it either, indicating that they are fearful of the consequences.
There are precedents in Ireland. In 1982, Eileen Flynn was sacked from her job as a teacher because she was co-habiting with a married man (divorce was illegal at the time). Her life-style did not match the ethos of the Catholic Church who ran the school. She took a case against them and lost. Now in these dark times a new religion is being rammed down people’s throats with the same mix of threats and fear and dogmatic orthodoxy. Whilst the Catholic Church demanded that we believe in transubstantiation, that the bread is transformed literally into the body of Christ, the new priests demand we believe that men can really transition into being female. Both of these positions are absurd. Bread is bread, not meat and men are not women and can never becomes women.
The issues are important. Even people like Burke have rights and whilst he is not someone we could find common cause with, even on this issue as he is not motivated out of concern for women’s rights. His case is the test case that will decide the future and as such his case, as loathsome as he may be, deserves our support. The new high priests should keep out of our minds, the language we use and also out of the teaching of science just like the old ones were told to keep out of our bedrooms.
(1) See https://gcn.ie/irish-lgbtq-community-stand-irishsolidarit-transphobia-trans-day-remembrance/
(2) The Irish Times (22/01/2023)
Concern among teacher unions over handling of Enoch Burke’s dismissal https://www.irishtimes.com/ireland/education/2023/01/22/concern-among-teachers-unions-over-handling-of-enoch-burkes-dismissal/