Four pro-life Mayo siblings have lost a civil action they brought against the National University of Ireland Galway (NUIG) claiming they had been banned from all university societies because of their religious beliefs.
Siblings Isaac, Enoch, Kezia and Ammi Burke claim that in November 2014, they were banned for life from all university societies in NUIG for what they claimed was religious discrimination.
On Monday, November 22, Judge Raymond Groarke delivered his judgment at Loughrea Circuit Court, saying the penalties imposed by the university were severe, but said it had the right to take such action.
Groarke said the Burke siblings had made “every possible and determined effort to cover their tracks” in addition to altering the company’s financial accounts and embezzling funds from the Christian Union Society (CUS).
He added that CUS had not investigated NUIG’s concerns about flyers that had circulated around the university bearing the NUIG logo.
Monday morning’s proceedings were disrupted by a member of the Burke family, who was eventually kicked out of court by gardaí after continually interrupting the judge.
Later that day on Monday, Isaac Burke shared a statement on Twitter which said in part that the Burkes were “shocked and appalled at the judgment” and that it was a “travesty of justice”.
A statement on today’s court decision. pic.twitter.com/4O7W2HGLpM
– Isaac Burke (@IsaacZBurke) 22 November 2021
All four Burke siblings are members of the Christian Union Society, which promotes scriptural Christian beliefs. The society, which had 127 members in 2014, has organized meetings and events at NUIG.
The Burke siblings were also members of the Life Society committee at NUIG, which promoted a pro-life message in the years leading up to the 2018 referendum on abortion rights in Ireland.
During the three-day hearing at Loughrea Circuit Court last month, Isaac Burke, who was representing himself, told Judge Raymond Groarke that he had received an email from the University Society Co-ordination Group (USCG) of NUIG on November 10, 2014, informing him that he had been banned from active membership in all societies at the university. He said his siblings have all received similar emails.
He told the court he had a rough year before receiving the email and said he was bullied by left-wing students.
He said NUIG students tore up posters calling for a ‘no’ vote in the university’s upcoming referendum on marriage equality in March 2014, saying that 20 of the 23 posters his siblings put up had been withdrawn by the students.
He added that his sister Ammi was overseeing a Christian Union table with information and leaflets on the same day when a student crumpled up the leaflets and threw them on the ground.
When the siblings informed college security about the incident, their response was to close the table, Isaac Burke told the court.
He said his siblings were subjected to a “taste of hell” as a result of the incident.
NUIG denied the allegations and said the Burke siblings were not excluded for life from all college societies, but had been excluded for four and a half years for the alleged embezzlement of university funds.
Professor Saoirse Ní Gowan, an academic attached to NUIG’s medical school, told the court that religion had nothing to do with the decision to ban Burke siblings from academic societies.
Ní Gowan was president of the USCG when the Burkes were banned from university societies in November 2014 and told the court that the siblings were banned for distributing leaflets using the NUIG logo, which is the opposite to the university’s code of conduct.
She added that they used university funds to pay for the flyers, thus distorting the university.
Ní Gowan said USCG members did not discuss the siblings’ religion before making the decision to ban them for four and a half years.
Dr Pat Morgan, vice president of student services at NUIG, led a panel that considered the siblings’ appeal against the ban and told the court that religion played ‘absolutely’ no role in the panel’s decision to dismiss the appeal.