Enoch Burke will learn next week whether or not he has won his appeal aimed at overturning orders prevented him teaching or attending a Co Westmeath school.
The orders were granted last August and September to Wilson’s Hospital School in Multyfarnham after it placed Mr Burke on paid administrative leave pending a disciplinary process.
That process was grounded on an August 2022 report by the then principal that addressed, among other things, his publicly voiced opposition at the end of a school religious service in June 2022, and at a dinner afterwards, to a direction from the then school principal a month earlier to abide by the wishes of a transitioning student and their parents to address the student by a new name and to use the pronoun ‘they’.
A disciplinary hearing proceeded on January 19th and resulted in the school’s board of management issuing a notice of dismissal to Mr Burke. The time to appeal it has not expired.
In the interim, Mr Burke was jailed for 108 days over contempt of the orders restraining him attending the school.
He was released just before Christmas without purging his contempt but, when he resumed attending the school on January 5th, it obtained orders imposing fines of €700 daily, applicable from January 27th, until he purges his contempt. The fines will exceed €25,000 on Friday.
When his appeal over the orders restraining attendance at the school was before the Court of Appeal on February 16th, the court’s president, Mr Justice George Birmingham, warned Mr Burke any continued attendance by him at the school may have an impact on the court’s handling of the appeal.
The appeal was heard over a day and Mr Justice Birmingham, sitting with Mr Justice John Edwards ad Ms Justice Máire Whelan, reserved judgment.
The judgment has been listed for delivery on Tuesday next.
During the appeal, when pressed by the judges about what accommodation he was prepared to make in relation to the transitioning student, Mr Burke, representing himself, argued a school “is not entitled to be more welcoming than the law permits”.
The principal’s direction to teachers was “manifestly unlawful” and breached his constitutional rights, including to freedom of expression and freedom of religious belief, he said.
Mark Connaughton SC, for the school, said the High Court orders are valid and should not be set aside. While “some tricky” issues arose from the principal’s report, the principal was not the decision maker when it came to the disciplinary process and her report determined “nothing”, counsel submitted.
A teacher can have their religious beliefs but is not entitled to behave unprofessionally and a school is entitled to say “you cannot think you can behave like this and still work for us”, he said.