Blessed be the fruit: In a story straight out of The Handmaid's Tale, news broke a few weeks back that Vice President Mike Pence's wife, Karen, is teaching art part-time at Immanuel Christian School in Springfield, Virginia, which bans LGBTQ students, parents and faculty from the school. This is not the first time Karen Pence has taught there, either — she was the school's art teacher for 12 years when her husband served in Congress. The Pences’ daughter Charlotte attended the school.
Just how explicit is this ban? According to the school's "parent agreement" posted on its website, the agreement reads:
"I understand that the school reserves the right, within its sole discretion, to refuse admission to an applicant or to discontinue enrollment of a student if the atmosphere or conduct within a particular home, the activities of a parent or guardian, or the activities of the student are counter to, or are in opposition to, the biblical lifestyle the school teaches. This includes, but is not limited to, contumacious behavior, divisive conduct, and participating in, supporting, or condoning sexual immorality, homosexual activity or bi-sexual activity, promoting such practices, or being unable to support the moral principles of the school. (Lev. 20:13 and Romans 1:27). I acknowledge the importance of a family culture based on biblical principles and embrace biblical family values such as a healthy marriage between one man and one woman. … I understand that the term 'marriage' has only one meaning; the uniting of one man and one woman in a single, exclusive covenant union as delineated in Scripture. My role as spiritual mentor to my children will be taken seriously."
The school's 2018 employment application is just as explicit. This document makes candidates sign a pledge not to engage in homosexual activity or violate the "unique roles of male and female."
The application states:
"Moral misconduct which violates the bona fide occupational qualifications for employees includes, but is not limited to, such behaviors as the following: heterosexual activity outside of marriage (e.g., premarital sex, cohabitation, extramarital sex), homosexual or lesbian sexual activity, polygamy, transgender identity, any other violation of the unique roles of male and female, sexual harassment, use or viewing of pornographic material or websites."
It also says that "marriage unites one man and one woman" and that "a wife is commanded to submit to her husband as the church submits to Christ."
When news about this broke, many were outraged. Karen Pence is not just a congressman's wife teaching at a school that espouses these views, as she was before the presidential election. She is now the Second Lady of the entire country. What an example to set for the American people! Out of all the Christian schools near Washington, D.C., she chose the one that discriminates against an entire community of people.
As a private school, especially one tied to a religious entity, Immanuel Christian is entitled to institute its own policies, to a certain extent. Under the 1964 Civil Rights Acts, private schools can't discriminate based on race or sex but can have single-gender student bodies.
In terms of religion, private schools can consider religion in admission decisions, and this extends to sexuality because, as I wrote in my Time for Tea column about the Equality Act, the Civil Rights Act does not cover sexual orientation. The Americans With Disabilities Act prevents discrimination against those with disabilities, even for private schools, but there are no such protections for the LGBTQ community. This discrimination is legal in both private and public institutions. It's important to note, however, that many other religious private schools do not share the same hateful and explicit policies as Immanuel Christian.
In response to the criticism, Vice President Mike Pence told the Eternal Word Television Network, "My wife and I … [are] used to the criticism, but I have to tell you, to see major news organizations attacking Christian education is deeply offensive to us. We have a rich tradition in America of Christian education and, frankly, religious education broadly defined. We celebrate it. The freedom of religion is enshrined in the Constitution of the United States. The Constitution prohibits a religious test for holding a public office and so we'll let the other critics roll off our back, but this criticism of Christian education in America should stop."
I myself attended a religious high school (a Jewish one, not a Christian one), and to hear Mike Pence hiding his hatred behind the guise of religious education is wrong on so many levels. Didn't Jesus teach his followers to love thy neighbor as thyself, and didn't he show love toward all people, including a prostitute?
As pop star and LGBTQ activist Lady Gaga said about the Pences during her Vegas show on Jan. 19, "You say we should not discriminate against Christianity. You are the worst representation of what it means to be a Christian. I am a Christian woman, and what I do know about Christianity is that we bear no prejudice, and everybody is welcome. So you can take all that disgrace, Mr. Pence, and you can look yourself in the mirror, and you'll find it right there."
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Perhaps the worst part of the school's policy is the damage that it can do to closeted or questioning LGBTQ kids at the school. Parents who send their kids to Immanuel Christian may not know if their kids are gay, and those kids would have to attend a school every day that is vehement and vocal against who they are. The emotional and psychological impact for these kids having to either hide or deny their feelings or fight against it can lead to irreparable consequences and, in many cases, even suicide.
But the most absurd piece of the Pences’ extreme religious views is that they are picking and choosing which pieces to practice. They're fully in support of a school that bans LGBTQ students, parents and faculty, but what about the parts of the school's policy that concern "heterosexual activity outside of marriage," "the term 'marriage' only [having] one meaning" or the "viewing of pornographic material or websites"? Mike Pence's boss, Donald Trump, against whom he has never spoken out, has been married three times and cheated on all three of his wives with porn stars and Playboy models, whom he paid off.
As Sirius XM radio host and author Clay Cane wrote for CNN, "If the Pences love their God so much, then they would not sit in a White House with a man who shows no moral compass and said he never asks for forgiveness. They would be on the White House lawn, with the King James Bible in hand, disavowing a president who is a horrible representation for our children. If Karen Pence loves 'moral purity,' she would have denounced Melania Trump for — for example — posing naked and in handcuffs for a men's magazine when she worked as a model. If she and her husband want to sign a pledge of moral purity, they should first hand it to the president of the United States for his own signature."
So praise be, Mr. and Mrs. Pence. Your hatred, and the hatred spewed by institutions like Immanuel Christian, might make for disturbing/compelling storylines on The Handmaid's Tale, but it definitely should have no place in real life in 2019. And as terrible as Donald Trump is, as a member of the LGBTQ community, I think stories like this make the thought of a Donald Trump impeachment sound just as bad if not worse, if we are left with a President Pence.