After Second Lady Karen Pence accepted a job working at a school that rejects LGBTQ students and staff, equal rights activists had a lot to say — and criticize — about the matter. But on Thursday, Vice President Mike Pence defended his wife Karen's job, saying critics were simply attacking religious education.
"We’re used to the criticism," he told Lauren Ashburn of Eternal Word Television Network, a Catholic news outlet, in an interview. "But … to see major news organizations attacking Christian education is deeply offensive to us." Pence argued that the country has a "rich tradition" of Christian and other religious education. "We celebrate it," he said. "The freedom of religion is enshrined in the Constitution of the United States."
He added, "We’ll let the critics roll off our back. But this criticism of Christian education should stop."
Pence decrying an attack on Christianity and Christian values isn't exactly new. Both Pences are evangelical Christians, and the vice president frequently describes himself as "a Christian, a conservative and a Republican, in that order," and has long been an opponent of LGBTQ rights. "The Christian faith is under siege," he said during a speech in 2017. "Throughout the world, no people of faith today face greater hostility or hatred than followers of Christ."
HuffPost reported earlier this week that Karen had agreed to begin working as a part-time art teacher at a K-8 facility called Immanuel Christian School in Springfield, Virginia. The controversy arose over the school's employment and enrollment policies, which require staff and students to conduct themselves according to Christian values.
According to the school's parental agreement, posted online, the administration has "sole discretion to refuse admission ... or to discontinue enrollment" to students found "supporting, or condoning sexual immorality, homosexual activity or bi-sexual activity, promoting such practices, or being unable to support the moral principles of the school."
Similarly, a 2018 employment application requires prospective staff to pledge to "maintain a lifestyle based on biblical standards of moral conduct," barring extramarital or premarital heterosexual sex, any homosexual sex, transgender identity, polygamy, and the use of pornography, as well as engaging in sexual abuse or harassment.
Since the news broke on Tuesday, LGBTQ rights activists have been strongly condemning the statement Karen's new job appears to make to LGBTQ communities in America. "The Pences never seem to miss an opportunity to show their public service only extends to some," tweeted the Human Rights Campaign, the nation's largest LGBTQ advocacy organization.
The Trevor Project, an organization dedicated to providing crisis intervention support for LGBTQ youth, clapped back with a donation that also served as a jab at the Second Family. They sent 100 copies of A Day in the Life of Marlon Bundo, a picture book produced by Last Week Tonight With John Oliver earlier this year that follows the activities of a sprightly gay version of the Pences' rabbit.
"We know that lesbian, gay, and bisexual youth from rejecting families are more than eight times more likely to attempt suicide than their straight peers," Amit Paley, executive director and CEO of the Trevor Project, told The Hill. "We hope Immanuel Christian School will adopt policies of inclusion for LGBTQ young people that make them feel safe, accepted, and loved."