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The anti-LGBTQ Virginia Christian school where Second Lady Karen Pence teaches art classes received almost $725,000 in government money through the government’s Paycheck Protection Program for COVID-19 relief.
As previously reported, Immanuel Christian School, in Springfield, Va., requires employees and parents to abide by codes of conduct that discourage homosexuality and gender-nonconformity.
According to the watchdog group Accountable.US, which analyzed data from the U.S. Small Business Administration, the school received $724,900 through the program, which was designed to help small businesses and nonprofits retain employees amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
The money was allegedly used to help the school, which is identified as a nonprofit in its application for the PPP funds, save 115 jobs, according to The Advocate.
The school first came under scrutiny in January 2019 when it was revealed that Karen Pence, the wife of Vice President Mike Pence, had been hired to teach art classes at the school, and that the school requires staff to sign a pledge in which they commit to not “participating in, supporting, or condoning sexual immorality, homosexual activity, or bi-sexual activity.”
The school also requires parents to sign an agreement that their children may be expelled or denied admission if either the student or their parent is engaged in conduct that runs counter to the school’s emphasis on “a biblical worldview.”
Pence had previously taught at the school for 12 years, when her husband was a member of Congress from Indiana.
Following news of Pence’s new position, former students began speaking out about the anti-LGBTQ atmosphere at the school, with one, Ian Cronkhite, who attended the school from 1989 to 1997, writing in a Huffington Post column that it was “a hotbed of right-wing fanaticism, shoved down the throats of impressionable children at every turn.”
He added that he knew of no student expelled or staffer fired for being LGBTQ, but claimed that was because the atmosphere was not conducive to coming out.
LGBTQ rights groups were critical, with Sarah Kate Ellis, the president and CEO of GLAAD, saying it was “disturbing” that Pence would “put her stamp of approval on an institution that actively targets LGBTQ students at one of the places where they should feel the safest,” and calling for the school to scuttle its discriminatory policy.
But Mike Pence defended the school and Karen Pence’s affiliation with it, seeking to cast criticism of the school as “deeply offensive” and a form of hostility towards Christian educational institutions.
President Donald Trump, never shy to wade into controversy, also defended Karen Pence’s decision to teach art at the school as part of a speech he gave on religious liberty at the National Prayer Breakfast that year.
While Immanuel Christian school isn’t the only anti-LGBTQ entity to receive PPP money, some advocates have criticized the idea of allowing institutions or businesses that actively discriminate against LGBTQ people to receive federal money, which they are able to under current law.
Additionally, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled earlier this past summer that religious schools are within their First Amendment rights to treat employees as “ministers,” even if they are not directly involved in the teaching of religion.
As a result, those employees who do not abide by religious teachings or whose lifestyle conflicts with certain tenets of a particular religion — such as someone married to a same-sex spouse — do not enjoy any protections that would prevent them from being fired.
As such, Immanuel Christian is fully within its right to require employees and parents to sign pledges committing to abide by Biblical morality, and denouncing same-sex marriage, homosexuality, or transgenderism. The larger question, of whether they are still entitled to receive taxpayer funds, is yet unresolved.
The American Civil Liberties Union, which opposes allowing entities that discriminate to receive taxpayer funds, spoke out against Immanuel Christian receiving PPP money.
“Religious liberty is not a license to discriminate,” Ian Thompson, a senior legislative representatives with the ACLU, said in a statement. “A religious school refusing to employ LGBTQ people or to enroll LGBTQ students, is in violation of federal law following this year’s historic decision in Bostock — including schools that are receiving a PPP loan. Discrimination has no place in our schools, particularly those that are receiving taxpayer funds.”
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