Karen Pence to teach at school that bans LGBTQ employees, students

The vice president's wife will return to a Virginia school that bars employees from engaging in homosexual "sexual activity” or condoning “transgender identity.”
Image: Karen Pence gives a tour of the holiday decorations at the Vice President's residence in Washington on Dec. 6, 2018.
Karen Pence has taught for 25 years, including 12 years at a Christian school in northern Virginia while her husband was in Congress.Alex Brandon / AP file
By Brooke Sopelsa and Vaughn Hillyard

Karen Pence, the vice president's wife, announced Tuesday that she would return to teaching art at a northern Virginia elementary school that explicitly bars its employees from engaging in or condoning “homosexual or lesbian sexual activity” and “transgender identity.”

The employment application for the Immanuel Christian School asks applicants to initial a passage stating that they will "live a personal life of moral purity," according to HuffPost, which first reported on Pence's return to the school.

“I understand that the term ‘marriage’ has only one meaning; the uniting of one man and one woman,” the passage 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, and sexual abuse or improprieties toward minors as defined by Scripture and federal or state law."

While the question of whether federal civil rights law prohibits employment discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity has been making its way through courts across the U.S., Virginia has no statewide legislation explicitly prohibiting this type of workplace discrimination by private employers.

A parent agreement posted on the school’s website states that Immanuel Christian School reserves the right to “refuse admission” or “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.” The prohibited conduct and activities include “sexual immorality,” “homosexual activity or bi-sexual activity.”

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In this “biblical morality” section, the parent agreement cites Leviticus 20:13, a bible passage that states, "If a man has sexual relations with a man as one does with a woman, both of them have done what is detestable. They are to be put to death; their blood will be on their own heads."

Pence has taught for 25 years, including 12 years at Immanuel Christian School while her husband was in Congress. She stopped when Mike Pence became governor of Indiana in 2013. Her office announced that she would teach twice a week until May.

“I am excited to be back in the classroom and doing what I love to do, which is to teach art to elementary students,” Pence said in a statement. “I have missed teaching art, and it’s great to return to the school where I taught art for twelve years.”

When asked about the school’s policies regarding LGBTQ people, Pence’s communications director 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.”

Pence’s office did not answer questions about her beliefs regarding employment discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity and whether she believes homosexual activity and transgender identity constitute "moral misconduct.”

While Immanuel Christian School’s policies have garnered national attention following Pence’s return, the school’s stated views are not uncommon for an evangelical Christian institution, according to Randall Balmer, a religion professor at Dartmouth College.

The religious right, according to Balmer, has “elevated sexuality into a litmus test of one’s faith.”

Eliza Byard, executive director of LGBTQ youth advocacy group GLSEN, called Pence’s decision to return to a school with restrictive policies regarding sexual orientation and gender identity — especially while in a highly public role — “deeply disturbing.”

“The prohibitions at this school,” Byard said, “take the position that not only are you not allowed to be yourself, but you’re not allowed to express support for LGBTQ people.”

“I do hope that as an elementary school teacher,” she added, Pence “will have some measure of compassion for students in that school that will be suffering as a result of these policies and did not choose to enter that school by their own choice.”

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