December 4, 2020 at 8:19 am EST | by Chris Johnson
Anti-LGBTQ school where Karen Pence teaches obtained $725K in PPP money
Karen Pence, gay news, Washington Blade
The anti-LGBTQ school where Karen Pence teaches got nearly $725,000 in PPP money. (Photo public domain)

A Christian school in Virginia infamous for banning LGBTQ teachers and students after second lady Karen Pence took a teaching job there obtained nearly $725,000 in PPP funds despite its anti-LGBTQ policies, the Washington Blade has learned.

A look at the distribution for the COVID-19 bailout funds, as documented by the government watchdog Accountable.US, reveals Immanuel Christian School in Springfield, Va., obtained the six-figure grant as part of the Paycheck Protection Program, which sought to keep small businesses afloat amid the coronavirus pandemic.

Immanuel Christian School claimed 115 jobs saved with the PPP money, according to the raw SBA data.

“It is shameful that an institution that discriminates against LGBT Americans received nearly $1 million in taxpayer funds,” Kyle Herrig, president of government watchdog Accountable.US, said in a statement. “This money was meant to help mom and pop small businesses meet payroll and keep the lights on — instead the wealthy and well-connected cashed in.”

The Small Business Administration operated the $669 billion program, which the agency says saved more than 51 million jobs during the coronavirus and is credited with being the most successful jobs program in U.S. history. (A report earlier this year in Axios, however, contested that estimate and said the number of jobs saved was closer to 13.6 million.)

Shannon Giles, a spokesperson for the Small Business Administration, declined to comment on the $725,000 given to Immanuel Christian School, citing a practice of no comment on individual borrowers.

Immanuel Christian School doesn’t just have policies excluding LGBTQ people, but declares in its employment application “homosexual acts and lifestyles are clearly perversion and reprehensible in the sight of God.” The school bars admissions of students if they identify as LGBTQ or come from LGBTQ families and refuses to employ LGBTQ teachers.

The school’s guidelines are listed in its “parent agreement,” which states Immanuel Christian School “can refuse admission to an applicant or to discontinue enrollment if the atmosphere or conduct within a particular home, the activities of a parent or guardian, or the activities of the student are counter to, or are in opposition to, the biblical lifestyle the school teaches.”

Immanuel Christian School didn’t respond Thursday to the Blade’s request to comment on whether it was appropriate for the school to accept taxpayer funds when it would reject taxpayers from admission or employment based on LGBTQ status.

Karen Pence accepted a position teaching art two days a week at the school in early 2019, returning after having worked there when her husband was a congressman.

“I am excited to be back in the classroom and doing what I love to do, which is to teach art to elementary students,” Pence said in a statement at the time.

Both President Trump and Vice President Mike Pence have defended Karen Pence for taking a job as an art teacher at the school. Trump called her a “terrific woman” during a February 2019 speech at the National Prayer Breakfast in response to her position at Immanuel Christian School, while Pence said in an interview with EWTN Global Catholic Network he was “deeply offended” by the criticism.

“The freedom of religion is not just enshrined in the Constitution, it’s enshrined in the hearts of the American people,” Mike Pence said later at the 2019 Conservative Action Political Conference. “But make no mistake about it. The freedom of religion is under attack in this country. Lately, it’s actually become fashionable for media elites and Hollywood liberals to mock religious belief.”

Neither the White House nor the vice president’s office responded to the Blade’s request to comment on whether it was OK for Immanuel Christian School to receive PPP money with anti-LGBTQ polices in place.

Current federal law doesn’t prohibit anti-LGBTQ discrimination in the distribution of PPP funds. Although the U.S. Supreme Court ruling this year in Bostock v. Clayton County determined anti-LGBTQ discrimination is a form of sex discrimination, therefore illegal in the workforce under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, has broad applications to all laws against sex discrimination, it has no bearing on federal programs like PPP.

Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which covers federal programs, bars discrimination on the basis of race, color and national origin, but says nothing about sex, let alone sexual orientation or gender identity.

Ian Thompson, legislative director for American Civil Liberties Union, affirmed the Bostock decision “would not apply” in the context of PPP, but said the Equality Act, legislation that would expand the prohibition on anti-LGBTQ discrimination under the Civil Rights Act, would rectify the situation.

“The Equality Act would fix this gap in civil rights law by making it illegal to discriminate with federal funding based on sex [including sexual orientation and gender identity],” Thompson said. “When the Equality Act is the law of the land, recipients of federal funding would not be permitted to have policies that openly discriminate against LGBTQ people.”

Thompson, however, conceded Immanuel Christian School may still be acting unlawfully in the aftermath of the Bostock decision regardless of whether or not it got PPP funds for having policies discriminating against LGBTQ employees or students.

“If a religious school were refusing to employ LGBTQ people or to enroll LGBTQ students, we think that would violate Title VII and Title IX under Bostock, regardless of whether it got a PPP loan or not,” Thompson said. “We also think that a policy of excluding LGBTQ people would be unlawful, but there might be a question of who had standing to challenge that policy if no one was actually excluded. And there would also be a question about whether the religious school would have access to a religious exemption, either under Title VII or Title IX or RFRA or the Constitution.”

Chris Johnson is Chief Political & White House Reporter for the Washington Blade. Johnson is a member of the White House Correspondents' Association. Follow Chris

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