The Second Lady, Karen Pence, has announced she will be taking a position teaching art at Immanuel Christian School in Springfield, Va. Mrs. Pence, an educator, painter and art therapist, previously taught art at the school for 12 years while her husband, Vice President Mike Pence, was a congressman.
In a statement issued by her office, Mrs. Pence said, “I am excited to be back in the classroom and doing what I love to do. I have missed teaching art.”
My own wife is a painter and a design professor at a local college. She has won the prestigious Ford Foundation Grant for painting and has shown her work at numerous galleries. She is certified to teach K through 12. Yet she would not be allowed to teach at Immanuel Christian School.
Why not? Because my wife is a lesbian and the school bans LGBTQ people from any involvement with the school whatsoever. No teachers, aides, volunteers, students or parents. It is written into the parent agreement that the school will not condone or accept “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.]”
The school requires all staff to be born-again evangelical Christians who fully subscribe to a “biblical” worldview. There can be no engagement in any “moral misconduct” — “homosexual or lesbian sexual activity,” “transgender identity” and “any other violation of the unique roles of male and female.”
The employment agreement stipulates that applicants agree that “God intends marriage to be between a man and a woman” and that employees should not change their gender identity.
The school also can refuse admission to students based on similar “activities of a parent or guardian” or “within a particular home.”
Karen Pence should not be allowed to hold a job at this institution while second lady. American taxpayers pay her husband’s salary and pay for her and her family’s Secret Service protection. The argument can be made that Mrs. Pence taking such a job is a violation of the Constitution separation of church and state.
I spent more than an hour poring over the school’s website. As a practicing Catholic, I understand the importance of Christian faith to many. I do not understand why Mrs. Pence would seek out such controversial employment that so many see as bigoted and hateful.
The vice president was incensed by the outrage over the second lady’s place of employment and took to the Christian Eternal Word Television Network to assert that it was “deeply offensive,” insisting, “My wife and I have been in the public eye for quite a while. We’re used to the criticism. But I have to tell you, to see major news organizations attacking Christian education is deeply offensive to us.”
The actions of the Pences are deeply offensive to me as a lesbian American. The vice president has a long and disturbing history as a vituperative homophobe who has voted against the rights of LGBTQ people while in Congress, signed anti-LGBTQ legislation as governor of Indiana, and advocated for and attempted to garner government funding for conversion therapy. As governor and vice president, Pence has promoted countless religious freedom bills and cites being a Christian as the most important thing in his life.
No one is denying the Pences the right to worship as they choose. But a school with such an extremist worldview, mission-statement and curriculum as Immanuel has — they even teach creationism and a trip to the Creation Museum is part of the fifth-grade curriculum — is crossing a political line and forcing the taxpayer, including every LGBTQ person, to pay to support a religious perspective many find not merely offensive, but dangerous.
I spent nine years in Catholic school. Religious schools teach that being gay is a sin — it puts you in opposition to your own faith and challenges your belief in both God and your own worth. The harm done by such teaching isn’t just to the potential gay student, although for me that experience had long-term repercussions. It is also harmful to the straight cisgender students who are raised with this message of bias and taught that God has cast out these sinners — when in fact, Christ never said a word about homosexuality or gender identity.
When Mrs. Pence is no longer second lady, she can teach at a school that codifies hate and bias. But as a representative of our secular government that pays her husband’s salary, it is unacceptable and sends a harmful, hateful message we all must reject.