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GALWAY, Ireland (ChurchMilitant.com) - Four Christian students at a university in Ireland were banned from membership in student organizations, and they claim it was retaliation for their Christian orthodoxy.
They filed for Equality Tribunal hearings, which began in October 2016. They have not heard back from the Workplace Relations Commission (WRC) about the results. They felt the WRC employee on their case was clearly biased against them, and they are submitting an appeal to the Circuit Court.
Siblings Enoch Burke, Isaac Burke, Ammi Burke and Kezia Burke are the four students in question. They are students at the National University of Ireland Galway (NUI Galway) in the western part of Ireland. They received their lifelong ban from student societies in November 2014 after they were accused of improperly using university funds. Administrators say the Burkes improperly used €325 in club funding to pay for the production of flyers.
The siblings say they were banned as retaliation for their legal actions against the university and for their history of expressing Christian beliefs on campus.
The four students have created a website called Burke Broadcast to share their account of what happened. The Burkes claim biased university administrators spent 18 months ignoring reports of anti-Christian harassment on campus.
Church Militant reached out to Isaac Burke for comment. He wrote in an email on Saturday:
Unlike in the USA, in Ireland there is no "right" vs "left" dichotomy in the news media and practically all outlets are unfavorable towards Christian belief. Freedom of expression and religious liberty would be rarely discussed. Therefore, our full story has not (yet) been picked up by mainstream media in Ireland.
In March 2013, NUI Galway had an abortion referendum. The Burkes put up posters around campus supporting the right to life. But many of the posters did not last long, thanks to various acts of vandalism.
Their website states, "We were unprepared for the scale of lawlessness that was to follow. Within 24 hours, more than 50 of our posters had been ripped down. Many of the remaining posters were defaced or deliberately covered over."
Among those responsible for the defacement was Kiran Emrich, a political activist and NUI Galway student who proudly identifies as a socialist.
Their account of the story goes on, "The intimidation and harassment continued unchecked throughout the referendum week. It is no wonder that we lost the referendum campaign 32 percent to 68 percent."
A few months later in September 2013, the Christian Union Society and the Life Society used posters around campus to advertise their meetings and events. (The Burkes had leadership positions in these student organizations.) Much like before, these posters were frequently vandalized. The Burkes relate, "Posters advertising our events were systematically ripped down or defaced, week after week."
The vandalism and hostility from other students continued, month after month.
For example, on March 12 2014, two of the Burke siblings had an information table about voting "no" on an upcoming same-sex marriage referendum. Supporters of so-called gay marriage came to protest and soon vandalized their table, crumbling up papers and knocking things onto the floor.
Isaac Burke called campus security in response, and Head of Security Gerry Nolan came to the scene. He decided to shut down the Burkes, instead of going after the vandals.
One day later on March 13, Isaac Burke was handing out pro-traditional marriage flyers when he was verbally harassed by a Ph.D. student named Luke Watson.
Watson allegedly got in Burke's face and shouted, "F*** off out of the building at once! Get your filthy f***ing literature out of here, you dirty f***ing scum!"
Isaac Burke called the Security Office after the incident. To this day, the Security Office has never gotten back to him about it.
The Life Society and Christian Union Society continued to see their posters vandalized around campus.
Eventually in November 2014, the Burkes were banned from participating in student societies at NUI Galway. The paperwork for it is ambiguous and "rambly," the Burkes claim, and they feel the ban was an act of retaliation by university administrators.
The Burkes are not the only ones who have accused NUI Galway of discriminating against Christians. In late 2013, Catholic organization the Legion of Mary got kicked out of NUI Galway. Legion of Mary members had shared a flyers for Courage, an apostolate that helps Catholics who experience same-sex attraction but want to live in accord with Church teaching. Pro-gay activists were outraged and got the group's official status at the university revoked.