Vice President Mike Pence defended his wife Thursday against criticism over her job at a Northern Virginia Christian school that prohibits homosexual or other extra-marital activity on the part of students or parents, calling for an end to “attacks on Christian education.”
Second lady Karen Pence, who teaches art part-time at Immanuel Christian School in Springfield, touched off a media firestorm following reports about the school’s policy on morality, which requires parents and students to adhere to “the biblical lifestyle that the school teaches.”
“Karen and I have been in and around public life for almost two decades, and so to be honest with you, we’re used to the criticism,” Mr. Pence told Family Research Council president Tony Perkins. “But the attacks on Christian education by the mainstream media have got to stop.”
His comments came during a radio interview Thursday on “Washington Watch with Tony Perkins.”
“We cherish the freedom of religion in this country,” Mr. Pence continued. “This administration stands foursquare for the freedom of religion of people of all faiths, and to see the mainstream media criticize my wife because she’s choosing to return to the classroom of an elementary Christian school is wrong. Again, the attacks on Christian education must end.”
The story, first reported by The Huffington Post, prompted a round of denunciations by media figures and progressives accusing Mrs. Pence of condoning discrimination, while conservatives defended the private school’s right to adopt traditional Christian standards of morality.
Immanuel requires parents to sign an agreement recognizing 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,” the agreement states.
“The Daily Show’s” Trevor Noah mocked Mrs. Pence in a Wednesday night segment, adding that, “I think it’s crazy that if you want to discriminate against anyone in America all you have to do is go, ‘Oh, it’s because of my religion! I’m not discriminating!'”
“This sends a terrible message to students,” tweeted the ACLU. “Do we want to live in a country with leaders who are willing to disavow LGBTQ youth?”
Late-night comic Jimmy Kimmel called the school “like a Slytherin-only Hogwarts,” while CNN ran an op-ed by Sirius XM host Clay Cane headlined, “Karen and Mike Pence’s astonishing moral hypocrisy.”
Conservative commentator David French countered that thousands of Christian schools have statements of faith “that require teachers and sometimes students and parents to agree with the school’s theological doctrine and comply with a code of conduct.”
“They don’t say, ‘No gays allowed.’ They say, ‘Here is what we believe, and here is how you must behave,'” said Mr. French on National Review Online.
Alexandra DeSanctis of National Review also noted that “the school does not ‘ban LGBTQ students.’ It requires compliance with Christian moral teaching, which opposes *homosexual activity* not *being homosexual.* That’s a meaningful and relevant distinction.”
Karen Brooks, spokeswoman for Mrs. Pence, called the controversy “absurd.”
“Mrs. Pence has returned to the school where she previously taught for 12 years,” Ms. Brooks said. “It’s absurd that her decision to teach art to children at a Christian school, and the school’s religious beliefs, are under attack.”
Founded in 1976 by Immanuel Baptist Church, the K-8 school plans to start a high-school program in the fall, according to its website.
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