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Guest Column

Should immoral laws be observed?

Irish schoolteacher Enoch Burke (second left) arriving at the High Court, Dublin, after he was committed to Mountjoy Prison in Dublin (CREDIT PA via Reuters)

It was the shocking story of an Irish teacher who had been jailed for returning to the school, where he taught, after being banned from doing so by court order, which made me realize that we are entering a time when we may all have to make a choice as to whether or not we, as law-abiding citizens, are willing to defy laws which are immoral.

It actually began when Enoch Burke refused to comply with the request of a transgender student who wanted to be referred to, when using a pronoun, as the sex with which the child now identified as opposed to the one into which they were born. When Burke explained how doing so would be a violation of his religious beliefs, which held that you are the gender into which you’re born, a court order was handed down which denied him the right to return to his teaching job.

For Burke, however, who was basically given the choice of capitulating to the student’s wishes or foregoing his career, he wasn’t having any of it. It would appear that Burke was not willing to call fantasy reality nor was he willing to recognize a court order which would punish him for that refusal, by taking away his livelihood.

Consequently, Burke, in defiance to the injunction, re-entered the school premises and sat at his usual classroom desk as he awaited the start of a new school day. The act resulted in his being jailed at Mountjoy Prison in Dublin where he is ordered to “remain therein until he purges his contempt or until further order of this court.” (“I will never leave Mountjoy Prison – man who refuses to use trans student’s pronouns jailed,”, 7/9/22)

When discussing this particular case with a British friend, who felt that Burke was wrong for defying the court order, I reminded her that his choice is not without precedent. The scriptures are full of similar stories wherein well-known biblical characters were commanded to adhere to immoral laws which neither had their basis in godliness nor humanity but had, nonetheless, become the law of the land to which each citizen was expected to faithfully adhere.

One such account was that of Daniel. In his case, a decree had been issued that no one was permitted to pray to any god or mortal except for the king who, at that time, was Darius. (Daniel 6) The punishment for such disobedience was being thrown into the lions’ den. Once Daniel learns of the decree, he changes nothing. To the contrary, he continues to pray in the same manner which he had previously done – with his upstairs windows, wide open toward Jerusalem, in which case everyone could witness his defiance of this immoral decree.

Of course, most of us know that although Daniel was thrown into the lions’ den, God spared him from sure death by miraculously shutting the mouths of the lions.

Another story, which comes to mind, was that of the two Hebrew midwives Puah and Shiphrah who were directed by the Egyptian king to kill any male babies which would be born to the Hebrew women. In this case, it is recorded that the midwives “had far too much respect for God and didn’t do what the king of Egypt ordered; they let the boy babies live.” (Exodus 1:18 MSG Bible) By refusing to obey what they knew to be an immoral law, Moses was permitted to be born, the very same figure who would lead his people out of bondage and into freedom. In fact, no one can argue that it was through that specific violation of the law that the Jewish nation still exists to this day.

So, the question remains, “Must laws which neither have their basis in morality nor humanity be observed?” In the case of Enoch Burke, it was his god-fearing conviction which precluded him from erasing the very gender which he believed God had given to the student. In other words, he neither felt qualified nor empowered to override God’s sovereign determination of creation. For that, he was stripped of his ability to earn a living, another judgment which he apparently deemed to be immoral and inhumane, causing him to return to the work to which he was so dedicated. Sadly, Enoch Burke is now sitting in prison for having the courage to honor his conscience and not play along with the ever-changing mores of our society.

I am reminded of yet one more story told to me by a friend who left his homeland of Israel many years ago for the purpose of work in the U.S. Enrolling his children in a private religious school, where he thought his daughters would receive a more ethical and moral education, he was told by one of his kids that the topic of the Holocaust had been discussed that day. The teacher had asked her students what they would do if after having chosen to hide Jews in their house, during that time, the Nazis would have come to the door asking if there were any Jews there. Would they have lied or told the truth? The teacher categorically stated that telling the truth must always be done.

Of course, this Israeli, Jewish father was flabbergasted when he discovered that the teacher, whom he believed to be of high moral standing, would believe that observing an immoral law, one which would clearly endanger the lives of Jews, should be honored, because, in her mind, violating the law must never be an option.

So many of us are incredulous when we see how dramatically lifestyles and laws have become unrecognizable according to the standards by which we’ve lived most of our lives. And from where have those standards come? They have, in most cases, emanated from both the Bible as well as what is deemed to be humane, just and honorable through the lens of enlightened and civilized nations.

Yet, we are, almost daily, faced with the call to accept and adapt to new and bizarre standards which, just a few years ago, would have been unthinkable, one of which includes losing your livelihood upon the refusal to call a boy a girl or a girl a boy.

While disobeying the law is anathema to people who possess a healthy sense of morality and a working conscience, it is even more untenable to consider obeying laws which cause us to turn off our conscience and sense of all that is right, decent and installed by God, Himself.

In that respect, obeying God must take precedent since it is He who is the giver of life as well as the Righteous Judge who, ultimately, determines how that life was lived before Him and others!

ALL ISRAEL NEWS is committed to fair and balanced coverage and analysis, and honored to publish a wide-range of opinions. That said, views expressed by guest columnists do not necessarily reflect the views of our management or staff.

A former Jerusalem elementary and middle-school principal and the granddaughter of European Jews who arrived in the US before the Holocaust. Making Aliyah in 1993, she is retired and now lives in the center of the country with her husband.

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