Rising to global notoriety overnight, prisoner Enoch Burke entered the state’s custody this week following a refusal to comply with an injunction on teaching at the Westmeath school he works at.
A teacher of German and History, Burke earned himself prison stripes by not indulging in a pupil’s gender fantasies and obeying a subsequent court order to stay away from the school. Citing his religious faith, Burke has stated he’ll remain in prison as long as it takes without acquiescing after being placed on paid suspension from Wilson’s Hospital School in Co Westmeath.
Specifically jailed for breaking the injunction rather than the refusal itself, Burke has understandably become a free speech martyr and a veritable headache for authorities no doubt realising the obscenity of the PR situation they’ve embroiled themselves in.
Remaining in prison until such time he complies with the court order to stay away from campus, the Burke imprisonment has done the rounds on the global free speech circuit from Jordan Peterson to the British gutter press. Athlone’s contribution to the global culture war.
While separate from hate speech legislation, which is inbound the next 6 months if Helen McEntee has her way, the ordeal is being taken by many as a precursor for the laws. And for good reason.
This is not the de facto hate speech test case the state would like to fight. Paddy and Mary are just about at the stage they’d begrudgingly tolerate the jailing of a character like Gemma O’Doherty for hate speech offences, a twenty something year old muinteoir for misgendering a student less so.
If the Department of Justice thinks putting a secondary teacher from Athlone behind bars is messy wait until they are jailing every old lad uttering the word ‘knacker’ in a WhatsApp group this side of Castlebar.
From a family that helped keep NUIG in check when they tried to trample on their rights before, we owe Burke a debt of gratitude for taking the first bullet and potentially watering down hate speech legislation down the line.
This stubborn man behind the wire may have helped us all down the line.