Vice President Mike Pence’s private religious views have been a remarkably common aspect of liberal commentary. Pence is one of the most polite and respectful religious people ever, if the headlines about him are to be taken into context.
The most recent was a breathless HuffPost headline that read, “Karen Pence Is Working At A School That Bans LGBTQ Employees And Kids.” It begins with a dark and somber tone: “Karen Pence, wife of Vice President Mike Pence, started at a job this week teaching art at Immanuel Christian School in Northern Virginia. It’s not a school where everyone is welcome.”
The core cause of concern comes from the parent agreement, which says the school may refuse admission or deny continued admission if a student participates in or condones homosexuality. The writer is stunned that the employment application “also makes candidates sign a pledge not to engage in homosexual activity or violate the ‘unique roles of male and female.’”
The author further states, “The application says that the school believes ‘marriage unites one man and one woman’ and that ‘a wife is commanded to submit to her husband as the church submits to Christ.’” The application asks potential employees to explain their view of the “creation/evolution debate.” The “parent agreement” asks parents to cooperate in its “biblical morality” policy.
After confirming that the state of Virginia, as with many other states, permits private religious schools to discriminate, the article ends with a quote: “‘Why not teach at a school that welcomes everyone, instead of choosing one that won’t serve LGBTQ kids, kids of LGBTQ parents?’ said JoDee Winterhof, senior vice president for policy and political affairs at the Human Rights Campaign, in a statement to HuffPost. ‘The Pences never seem to miss an opportunity to show their public service only extends to some.’”
This Is All Definitely Informed Consent
To be sure, the school is very specific in its expectations of conduct from students, their families, and faculty, and goes to great lengths to detail the belief system under which the school operates. The Parent Agreement opens by stating, “We are, first of all, a Christian school and a ministry of Immanuel Bible Church (IBC) and as such establish the biblical basis from which we will teach a Christian world and life view.”
The parental consent portion states, “I acknowledge that the Immanuel Christian School partnership is designed for parents who are born-again, Bible-believing Christians who have accepted and continue to acknowledge Jesus Christ as personal Lord and Savior. Therefore, I agree to support the biblical teachings and guiding principles that Immanuel Christian School takes from scripture to educate my children.”
The statement of refusal or admission for a student is part of a larger stipulation that the household must be dedicated to a Christian lifestyle to participate in the community. It therefore forbids anyone in the home from “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.”
The teacher application is a document of agreement to the stated founding beliefs known as the Statement of Faith and asks the teacher to agree, in part, “I will not teach contrary to the beliefs expressed therein in any setting sanctioned by or affiliated with Immanuel Christian School or Immanuel Bible Church.” This agreement follows a very detailed listing of specific Christian beliefs and the school’s religious views of each.
The teacher applicant must also sign, “I affirm that, as part of the qualifications for employment, I am a born again Christian who knows the Lord Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord.” Finally, after several additional agreements regarding behavioral and moral standards of conduct, the agreement states, in part, “I agree to notify the ICS leadership in writing should my beliefs, behavior or lifestyle choices change or come in conflict with the sincerely held religious beliefs of Immanuel Christian School as indicated by the Articles of Employment and Immanuel Bible Church’s Statement of Faith.”
It would be exceedingly difficult, if not impossible, for a non-believing individual to become employed without recognizing the religious nature of the school.
This Is Common Among Religious Schools
From the Huffington Post writer’s use of quotations throughout, the emphasis is heavily fixated on the express religious motivation in the various documents. After a review of other private schools with similarly strict religious observances, I wonder if the writer is simply unaware of how common this is.
Mesivta Birkas Yitzchok, an Orthodox Jewish boy’s private school, for example, states on its mission page, “The goal of Mesivta Birkas Yitzchok is to produce G-d fearing and Torah observant students who excel academically in both Torah and General Studies. The environment of the school will be one that nurtures religious growth, refinement of character, and encourages a lifestyle wherein Torah, its study and culture, are primary.”
The Yeshivah of Flatbush Elementary School in New York City states, “We share with the students that Torah, mitzvot, and a relationship with Hashem are central elements to each of our lives.” The school requires boys to wear a yarmulke and tzitzit (religious garment) and girls are forbidden to wear pants after preschool age. The school forbids home-cooked meals be brought in, and all food must be strictly certified kosher.
An Orthodox high school, Yeshiva University High School of Los Angeles, that is divided into a boy’s school and a girl’s school states in its mission, “The religious philosophy of YULA is based on the acceptance of Torah from Sinai and a total commitment to the halachic process in determining one’s lifestyle. YULA identifies with those who combine a halachic lifestyle with active participation in contemporary society without any compromise or laxity in the observance of halacha.”
The Al-Madinah School, an Islamic private school in New York City, provides extensive religious requirements for both students and teachers. The student application states that all adults and parents must obey strict Islamic dress codes in the school and Islamic behavioral codes in and outside the school. Parents engaging in un-Islamic behavior on school grounds or outside of school may result in the expulsion of the student. Of course, traditional Islamic behavior precludes LGBT forms of sexuality.
The school may expel a student for engaging in “un-Islamic behavior and/or religious violations.” Female students are also required to wear a plain white hijab and a loose-fitting jilbab (full-covering religious dress). Boys must have a standard haircut or will not be allowed into class. The admission policy states, “Al-Madinah School has an open door policy for admissions, however, in Islam, discipline is very important. We have a strict code of behavior which must be followed by our students. If the child does not meet our code of Islamic behavior the child will be expelled from the school.”
The teacher handbook is even more explicit, stating, “Most importantly, we must remember that our mission is to serve Allah first and foremost. As an employee of Al-Madinah School, your goals include serving the Muslim community and the Muslim ummah as a whole.” The employee conduct section instructs, “It is expected that each individual hired will be dedicated to respecting this trust and upholding the principles of Islam.”
Teachers are expected to uphold the high standards of conduct outside of school as well, including social media use. Female teachers are required to wear a hijab: “Your hijab is a form of worship and obedience to Allah SWT.” On this point the handbook quotes the Quran with a version for both men and women: “And tell the believing women to lower their gaze (from looking at forbidden things), and protect their private parts (from illegal sexual acts) and not to show off their adornment…”
Women may not wear make-up or decoration and only wear solid colors. Men must also dress in strict ways, and the dress code extends outside of school and on weekends.
Regarding in-class internet usage, “Teachers are responsible to scan every video or website and ensure that the content is appropriate for students and follows the Islamic criteria for sharing information.” Teachers must engage in daily prayers (salah) and a male teacher may not be alone with a female student or a female teacher with a male student. The guideline states, “Islamically, a male and female should never be alone together inside a closed space (classroom, elevator, etc.). Male and female staff members should respect each other’s personal space.” The teacher must agree to these conditions and sign the handbook.
All Religious Require Specific Behavior
What all of these organizations have in common, and that the majority of progressive commentators typically fail to recognize, is a code of behavioral conduct and voluntary acceptance of a specific belief system. Each holds the student, parent, and employee to a specific religious lifestyle, something parents and educators choose to participate in.
The purpose of a private religious school is to allow explicit religious-based education designed to be exempt from secular requirements and obligations. To answer Winterhof from the HRC on why Karen Pence chose a school with strict religious standards: she wanted to work there, just as those who apply to an Orthodox Jewish school or Islamic school choose to participate in and restrict themselves to a certain lifestyle. Strangely, however, only the observant Christian is shamed for doing so.
More specifically, Immanuel Christian School does not ban anyone from attending or working at their school. They require a specific set of behavioral and religious belief standards equally applied to everyone. Many in the Christian world make a distinction regarding LGBT people that the left typically refuses to consider, between a person and his actions.
Stop Imposing the Left’s Morality on Everyone
As with all traditional religious practices, individuals are expected to conform to a code of conduct. Pence and his wife are traditional Christians, and the frightening undertone of the criticism is of progressives advancing state-regulated religious practice. While there is room for discussion about the experience of a young person who is gay or has gender dysphoria in this particular school or any of the others referenced above, it is equally relevant to point out that the school makes it clear it is the rejection of moral conduct and not the person that is at issue.
The left has grown to feel entitled to impose their worldview onto every conceivable situation and expect those they target to accept their morality. While only Christians are targeted for public shaming, the legal consequences of progressive demands will affect all traditional religious private schools equally. The fate of religious education falls into the hands of the people most intolerant to it, and that should concern all of us.
Despite what the left argues, Christian morality standards are not extreme or dangerous. It is perfectly acceptable to disagree with them calmly, and if you do you would never sign that application. Tolerance largely involves leaving other people alone.
In this, the Pences deserve a break from the near-constant alarm-ringing for moral outrage over their personal religious practice. Furthermore, all religious education systems deserve autonomy and freedom. Regardless of how a person views his or her beliefs, it really isn’t anyone’s business other than those who choose to participate.