Speaking at the National Prayer Breakfast on Thursday, President Donald Trump praised Vice President Mike Pence’s wife, Karen, for accepting a job at a Christian school that bans LGBTQ students, faculty, and staff.
Trump acknowledged Karen Pence, who was seated on the dais with him at the Washington Hilton, commending her for “teaching art classes at a Christian school” and called her a “terrific woman.”
Karen Pence came under fire last month after accepting a job at Immanuel Christian School in Springfield, Va., where she will teach art classes twice a week and where she previously taught when her husband was stationed in D.C. as a congressman from Indiana.
Immanuel Christian requires parents to sign an agreement that their children can be expelled for “sexual immorality, homosexual activity, or bisexual activity,” and requires prospective employees to agree that they will not engage in “premarital sex, cohabitation, extramarital sex, homosexual or lesbian sexual activity, polygamy, transgender identity, or any other violation of the unique roles of male and female.”
LGBTQ advocates fiercely criticized Karen Pence when she accepted the teaching position. Vice President Pence eventually felt compelled to defend his wife, saying it was “deeply offensive” to criticize Christian education, part of which includes teaching children about religious doctrine, including Christianity’s disapproval of homosexuality and transgenderism.
LGBTQ groups have since continued to express their disapproval of what they see as Karen Pence’s tacit endorsement of the Immanuel Christian School’s policies.
“It’s disturbing that @SecondLady and @realDonaldTrump would put their stamp of approval on an institution that actively targets LGBTQ students,” GLAAD President and CEO Sarah Kate Ellis tweeted in response to Trump’s praise of Karen Pence.
— GLAAD (@glaad) February 7, 2019
While Trump didn’t mention LGBTQ rights specifically in his 20-minute speech, he did allude to measures his administration has taken to protect “religious liberty.” He also alluded to a lawsuit lodged against the state of Michigan to prevent it from contracting with or granting taxpayer dollars adoption agencies that refuse to place children with same-sex couples.
However, the president attempted to cast the lawsuit as a direct attack on adoption agencies such as St. Vincent’s Catholic Charities, which he had earlier praised (though not by name) for helping a Michigan couple adopt five children.
“We will always protect our country’s long and proud tradition of faith-based adoption,” he said. “My administration is working to ensure that faith-based adoption agencies are able to help vulnerable children find their ‘forever families’ while following their deeply-held beliefs.”
He also did emphasized his opposition to abortion, pledging to protect “the dignity and sanctity of innocent human life,” and on eliminating human trafficking, which he linked to the need for stricter immigration policies — both priorities he mentioned in his State of the Union Address on Tuesday.
Held annually, the National Prayer Breakfast offers an opportunity for political leaders, including the president, to make a public demonstration of support to faith leaders and religious organizations and promising to elevate their preferred policies through legislation or executive order.
To that end, Trump pledged his unwavering allegiance to those in attendance, which include several figures who comprise the so-called “Religious Right,” beginning his speech with the words: “I will never let you down. I can say that. Never.”
But the president also made a major gaffe when reading from a teleprompter, combining the abolition of slavery with civil rights when reciting a list of major accomplishments that he attributed to or were motivated by faith leaders.
“Since the founding of our nation, many of our greatest strides — from gaining our independence, to abolition of civil rights, to extending the vote for women — have been led by people of faith and started in prayer,” the president said before taking a pause and ad-libbing.
“We are blessed to live in a land of faith where all things are possible,” he continued. “Our only limits are those we place on ourselves.” Then, after another pause, he added: “So true.”