July 31, 2017
At a Pennsylvania academy, students got a lesson all right — in intolerance! When two pro-life high schoolers decided to protest abortion on the public sidewalk outside the school, they had a surprising (and profanity-laced) visit from a member of the administration, Vice Principal of Student Life Zach Ruff.
Angry that the conservative teenagers were demonstrating, Ruff grabbed one of the student’s signs. When the pair explained that they were just trying to expose “the holocaust that’s happening in America,” the administrator snapped. While others captured the exchange on video, Ruff rejected the idea. The students tried to point out that “these [unborn children] are the people that are being murdered,” despite being “image bearers of God.”
In a shocking reply, the Vice Principal tells the students, “You can go to hell where they are too!” To their disbelieving faces, he goes on, “They are not children. They’re cells.” When the brother and sister team suggest that Ruff needs Jesus, Ruff outs himself. “Listen here, son. I’m as gay as the day is long and twice as sunny,” Ruff yelled. “I don’t give a [expletive] what Jesus tells me and what I should and should not be doing. Just because you choose to believe a book of fiction doesn’t mean I have to,” Ruff continued. “Prove it to me with science. … You believe it, does not make it true. You and [President Donald] Trump can go to hell.”
After the confrontation was posted to YouTube, school officials were suddenly apologetic. “You had every right under our Constitution’s First Amendment to speak and display signs like you did, and that right was violated by Dr. Ruff,” Superintendent Emilie Leonardi wrote in a letter to the siblings. “Rest assured that Dr. Ruff’s actions do not represent the policy of the School District. Instead, we will be providing information to our employees on the First Amendment rights of individuals. We are committed to preventing incidents from happening in the future and will instruct school employees not to violate anyone’s Free Speech rights on public sidewalks outside our schools again.”
Alliance Defending Freedom, who represented the students, announced that the Downington Area School District had agreed to a settlement, rather than take the issue to court. Attorney Kevin Theriot wasn’t surprised, considering how unconstitutional (and unprofessional!) Ruff’s actions were.
“No government employee — especially someone with authority over students — should harass or threaten anyone for exercising their First Amendment protected freedoms in public,” Theriot said. “Conner and Lauren Haines were peacefully expressing their pro-life views, holding signs, and talking to those passing by. The bullying and verbal abuse that Zach Ruff inflicted on Conner and Lauren, as documented in the video, made a policy clarification critically necessary, not only for the Haineses, but also for everyone in the Downingtown community. We commend the district for doing the right thing to prevent this from ever happening again.”
Thank goodness for young people who stick up for what’s right when adults around them don’t! In my book No Fear: Real Stories of a Courageous Generation Standing for Truth, I introduce you to several of them. Consider giving a copy to a teenager you know. It just might inspire them to live out their faith with a boldness like this that changes their life — and others’!
Tony Perkins’ Washington Update is written with the aid of FRC senior writers.