Last week, the “second lady” of the United States, Karen Pence, went to work as an art teacher at Immanuel Christian School in Northern Virginia. Immanuel Christian is one of the many American religious institutions, as Rebecca Klein reported for HuffPost, that discriminates both in its hiring and its admissions. The school requires “moral purity” from its staff, meaning they can’t be queer, have sex outside marriage or watch porn, and must “respect the unique roles of men and women.” The school also reserves the right to expel students for being queer.
Immanuel Christian is not unusual. Too many religious schools at all levels regulate the personal conduct of their employees and students, restrict the books teachers can assign or students can read, and demand fealty to narrow constructions of religious identity, while enshrining bigotry into their bylaws.
Vice President Mike Pence says that criticizing institutions that discriminate like this is anti-Christian. I say that these schools are not only anti-American, in that they exclude so many Americans, but are also not in the best educational interests of the students who attend them.
For too many other institutions, faith provides the material to build a defensive wall rather than a strong foundation.
There are about 27,000 religious private K-12 schools in the United States and over 1,000 religious colleges and universities. Many of these institutions are inclusive, welcome, places. I should know, as I taught at Dominican University, a Catholic institution in the Chicago area, for over 10 years. I only left so I could raise my kids in Minnesota. For Dominican, and for thousands of institutions like it, faith traditions provide a rock of identity on which to stand and welcome the world with confidence.
As a secular Jew, I felt at home at Dominican. As an institution, it knew what it was and hoped I would share in the mission to make a “more just and humane world.” My Muslim and queer colleagues reported similar feelings of inclusion, and I don’t think Dominican is atypical in this regard. From kindergarten to graduate school, it’s possible to attend or work at a religious institution of learning that takes faith seriously without endorsing exclusion or bigotry.
Alas, for too many other institutions, faith provides the material to build a defensive wall rather than a strong foundation. Karen Pence’s new employer, Immanuel Christian, is one of many examples at the secondary level. I’ve been tracking similar issues at the collegiate level.