Vice President Mike Pence graduated from Hanover College in southern Indiana in 1981 with a B.A. in history. Instead of expressing pride in the success of a former grad—a standard form of benign self-promotion—many at the college have spent the last decade distancing it from the prominent Republican governor, and now vice president of the United States. As a graduate of Hanover (class of 2015), I have looked on in dismay as the school largely ignored Pence’s achievements and released statements criticizing him for his actions as governor.
In the latest display of virtue-signaling by denizens of the nation’s higher-education institutions, more than 500 people associated with Hanover College, including approximately 470 alumni, recently sent a letter to Pence, excoriating him for a variety of sins against modern cultural Marxist sensibilities.
In a six-paragraph cri de coeur, the letter-writers state, “We write to you to ask how, as an obviously devout Christian, and after four years of the enlightening liberal arts education we all received at Hanover College, you can participate in the discrimination, racism, xenophobia, and antipathy toward the poor that we see in the actions of the Trump administration.” They later ask, “How is sowing fear and confusion among neighbors a Christian value? Scapegoating others for their differences does not bring glory to God, Mr. Vice President, but it just might bring this nation to ruin.”
Throughout the letter, these alumni and associates criticize Pence for his perfectly ordinary conservative stances, replaying a variety of tired anti-Trump talking points and even getting the facts and context dead wrong on several political incidents. They argue, “[Y]ou are now actively participating in efforts to dismantle health care and other social safety nets for all but the most affluent Americans.” Sen. Rand Paul and the House Conservative Caucus would likely disagree with that laughable assessment.
As it happens, Pence was widely vilified among Indiana conservatives and libertarians for his Healthy Indiana Plan 2.0 increasing health care subsidies for able-bodied, working-age individuals above the poverty line, which they characterized as being Obamacare Medicaid expansion under a pseudonym. The law made more than 300,000 low-income individuals eligible for Medicaid benefits while promoting some personal responsibility among recipients by incorporating small but meaningful co-payments.
Doing What the LGBTQ Lobby Wants Means Hating Them?
After these feverish mischaracterizations of Pence’s health care policies as governor, the letter predictably turns to vilifying Pence for having tepidly supported then reversing a state law that would have allowed Hoosiers to mention religious reasons during court cases involving discrimination claims.
“Those of us who consider ourselves people of faith cannot understand, much less support, oppressing any of God’s children in the name of Christianity,” they write. “Discrimination and exclusion are not values espoused by Jesus Christ.” They then “urge [Pence] to oppose those within your administration who have actively courted the support of white supremacists.” They provide no documentation of these outrageous accusations.
These claims against Pence are in fact entirely disassociated from reality, merely reflecting the fact that Pence signed Indiana’s Religious Freedom Restoration Act in 2015. That bill extended to the state level the protections of the federal Religious Freedom Restoration Act of 1993 (RFRA), which was introduced in the U.S. House of Representatives by Democratic stalwart Chuck Schumer and in the Senate by the late Ted Kennedy, two individuals hardly known for ties to right-wing hate groups or sexual purity campaigns. The federal RFRA passed by a unanimous vote in the House and a resounding 97-3 affirmation in the Senate—and it was signed into law by President Bill Clinton, a person deathly allergic to any form of sexual puritanism.
The purpose of RFRA, and of Indiana’s version, was to restore some small amount of liberty to individuals to possibly protect their ability to act in accord with their religious convictions—a value the Hanover complainers repeatedly claim to support. Evidently, religious freedom is all fine and dandy until somebody declines to bake a cake for somebody.
Both RFRA and the Indiana law were serious attempts to protect the rights of individuals to live out their religious values without imposing those values on others. The question at hand was whether the government of Indiana should force individuals to participate in a same-sex wedding when it violates their consciences, such as requiring a devout Christian to bake a cake or make a pizza for a same-sex wedding. The Hanoverians appear to be so intent on rooting out phantasms of homophobia that they can’t recognize that using government to force individuals into contracts is itself discriminatory and illiberal.
Not only this, but after liberal and big business pressure Pence signed a bill erasing the RFRA protections for a constitutionally protected right to religious exercise and extending preferential legal treatment to LGBTQ people, thereby accomplishing a key policy goal of the LGBTQ lobby. How is doing what the LGBTQ lobby wants anti-gay? The letter writers have staked an incoherent position based on empty talking points instead of reality.
Maybe Read Some History and Philosophy Next Time
The rest of the Hanoverians’ harangue is similarly small-minded. Complaining about the Trump administration’s opposition to illegal immigration, they ask, “How on earth is that a conservative aim of government? How is sowing fear and confusion among neighbors a Christian value?” The Christian philosopher and theologian Thomas Aquinas would surely have found their attitude puzzling: He taught that a Christian’s first duty is to his or her children and the second is to one’s neighbors. Equally unfounded is the Hanoverians’ claim that a president asking government agencies to enforce the laws of the United States is un-Christian.
Contrary to the Hanover letter, Pence’s tenure as governor of Indiana, following on the heels of major reform initiatives by former Republican governor Mitch Daniels, was a good time for the state. Hoosier businesses have the nation’s sixth-lowest state tax burden, and Indiana will have the second-lowest corporate tax rate by 2021. Businesses are flocking to the state.
During Pence’s tenure as governor, unemployment fell to less than 5 percent. By this past February, as the final results of Pence’s tenure in office could be seen, Indiana’s unemployment rate was down to 4.1 percent, well below the national average of 4.7 percent. Like Daniels, Pence has left the state in better shape than it was when he arrived in office.
In ignoring those specific successes and casting vague accusations, the Hanover letter exemplifies the groupthink on contempary college campuses. Once a hallmark of American higher education, the ability to engage in open discourse and disagree civilly has fallen by the wayside in recent decades, replaced by hate and shaming of those who disagree with the ever-changing shibboleths of Marxist political correctness. The Hanoverians’ attack on Pence is another in a long line of unctuous attempts in the academy and elsewhere to suppress centrist and conservative ideas and eliminate open discourse.
Maligning Mike Pence’s Convictions Is Not Fair Debate
The most disturbing aspect of the letter, however, is the writers’ continual questioning of Pence’s devotion to Christian values. To cast doubt on the sincerity of a person’s religious beliefs because his political views are different from one’s own is not rational argumentation; it is an open suggestion to others to indulge in the discredited religious practice of shunning. A person who cannot separate politics from religion clearly has no understanding of either.
In stark contrast with the letter writers’ imposition of a political test on religious purity, Pence has never said a harsh word about those who have taken over his alma mater and attempted to impose a cultural Marxist agenda on a school founded by and still affiliated with the Presbyterian Church. Instead of questioning the vice president’s religious faith, the Hanoverians would do more good by considering the logs in their own eyes and asking any conservatives on the campus how welcome they feel there. In my experience there, these academic leftists have become what they claim to hate most: bullies intent on imposing their will on others and silencing all who disagree.
Also worth noting is that the letter writers did not have the courage to make their names public, instead hiding behind anonymity lest any imperfections of their own lives cast doubt on their qualfications to judge Pence.
It’s important to note that Hanover College has taken no official stance on Pence other than to say that he has brought positive attention to the school through his achievements. However, the Hanover administration has allowed students and faculty members to shout that narrative down and replace it with the kind of demagoguery that has become the de facto official stance of the college, as the press coverage of the letter indicates. Like countless others across the nation, I am ashamed of the illiberal political steamrolling by those associated with my alma mater.