The small Christian school in Hagerstown, Maryland that made headlines earlier this week for its decision to not allow a pregnant student to walk in graduation has chosen to stand its ground despite facing intense scrutiny from pro-life and feminist groups alike.
In a letter to the Heritage Academy community this week, administrator David R. Hobbs, defended the school’s decision to discipline Maddi Runkles, a senior with a 4.0 grade point average, who, in addition to not participating in graduation, was also removed from her post as student council president and suspended from school (she will, however, still receive her diploma).
“Maddi is being disciplined, not because she’s pregnant, but because she was immoral,” Hobbs wrote, citing the pledge all Heritage students sign based on Philippians 4:8 that “extends to my actions, such as protecting my body by abstaining from sexual immorality and from the use of alcohol, tobacco, and illegal drugs.”
Runkles’ story became national news after the New York Times ran a story about her plight on Sunday. As Faithwire reported, pro-life group Students for Life has been advocating on Runkles behalf, arguing the student should be lauded, not punished for her decision to keep her baby.
“By banning her and her alone, the administration and board collectively decided to make a public example of one student,” Students for Life President Kristan Hawkins wrote in a statement, “and has either intentionally or unintentionally communicated to the school community that pregnancy (not simply premarital sex) is a shame and should not be observed within our school community.”
While Heritage Academy has expressed support for Runkles decision to not have an abortion, the school has maintained that the real issue is a moral one that extends beyond the pregnancy.
“Heritage is also pleased that she has chosen to not abort her son,” Hobbs wrote in his letter. “However, her immorality is the original choice she made that began this situation. Secondly, she will receive her diploma that she has earned.”
“A wise man told me that discipline is not the absence of love, but the application of love,” he continued. “We love Maddi Runkles. The best way to love her right now is to hold her accountable for her immorality that began this situation.”
In a Facebook post on Wednesday, conservative writer Matt Walsh explored the complex circumstances of the case that has pitted like-minded groups against one another.
They’ve been getting harshly attacked from left and right, by feminist groups and pro-life groups, by conservative websites and mass media, because they are preventing a pregnant student from walking across the stage at graduation. She’s still graduating, but she is not allowed to walk because the school has a rule against pre-marital sex, alcohol, drugs, and tobacco, and clearly she broke at least one of them. These rules are outlined in a pledge that every student signs every year…
…Some very powerful pro-life groups have jumped into this thing and have dedicated a considerable amount of resources to publicly crucifying this tiny Christian Academy in a town none of you have probably even heard of. I’ve heard it said over and over again that the young woman should be given “grace,” but those who want grace for the woman are extending none at all to the administrators at this school, who were faced with a difficult dilemma through no fault of their own.
Walsh, who commended the student’s decision to choose life, defended the school’s right to have rules and enforce them. He also questioned what those speaking out against Heritage Academy are trying to accomplish.
Now, let me say that I’m happy the girl is choosing life for her child. If I were the principal of the school, I’d probably let her walk. But it’s a difficult situation. On one hand, you want to celebrate her choice, but on the other, if you toss your rules out the window in this case, how can you enforce them in any other case…
…There’s a tough balance between admonishing the sin of pre-marital sex while celebrating the life that comes from it. That’s a very difficult line to walk, but everyone in the peanut gallery seems to be pretending that it’s not difficult at all. They have it all figured out, and because they have it figured out, they feel comfortable condemning this school and its administrators.
It isn’t right. I find it really disappointing, honestly.
For her part, Runkles has conceded that her actions were against school policy, but she has struggled to accept the reality of her choices.
“I told on myself. I asked for forgiveness. I asked for help,” she said. “Some pro-life people are against the killing of unborn babies, but they won’t speak out in support of the girl who chooses to keep her baby. Honestly, that makes me feel like maybe the abortion would have been better. Then they would have just forgiven me, rather than deal with this visible consequence.”
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