Just months after a homosexual Pennsylvania public school vice principal told two Christian pro-life teenagers – who were protesting abortion on a public sidewalk outside the school – to “go to Hell,” they agreed to a settlement with the school district.
In addition to settling, the Downingtown Area School District (DASD) will amend its policies so that anyone can exercise their First Amendment rights to free speech and to publicly demonstrate views that might not be aligned with campus politics, according to the Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF).
Just after school on April 21, Downingtown STEM Academy Vice Principal of Student Life Zach Ruff interrupted Conner and Lauren Haines in the middle of their pro-life demonstration on the public sidewalk in front of the school, and things got heated.
“The Haineses, who are siblings, said they were trying to expose the negative impact of abortion – a procedure that, since it became legal in 1973, has ended the lives of nearly 60 million unborn babies [in America],” The Christian Post (CP) recounted. “The teens were highly visible to students driving out of the parking lot after school, and that didn't sit well with Ruff, who angrily confronted them and tried to shield students leaving the school from seeing the Haineses' demonstration.”
With modern technology, Ruff could do little to defend his actions.
“In a video posted to YouTube, Ruff can be seen in the 18-minute confrontation telling the Haineses they have no right to talk to students on school property,” CP’s Samuel Smith reported. “At one point, Ruff can be seen grabbing at a sign held by Conner Haines.”
When Connor argued, “It’s a public sidewalk,” the hostile school official had a quick comeback.
“Yes, it is, but you’re actually on school property,” Ruff claimed, according to LifeSiteNews.
Connor then called him on his claim, asking him, ”You want to call the police?”
Ruff apparently obliged.
“I’m more than happy to do that,” he responded … before immediately returning to try and justify his actions, LifeSiteNews indicated. “I wish to protect my students from unsightly things they don’t have to see.”
Cutting off Connor before he could get off a reply, Ruff continued.
“You want to call me a liar while you’re standing out here harassing teenagers?” he questioned, LifeSiteNews reported.
Connor then set the record straight with the vice principal.
“I’m not harassing anyone,” Connor contended, according to LifeSiteNews. “It’s a free society.”
When the pro-lifers then explained to Ruff that they were simply trying to expose “the holocaust that’s happening in America,” Ruff insisted that there is “no holocaust happening in America,” but the exchange did not end there.
"These [unborn children] are the people that are being murdered," Connor Haines responded. "These are image bearers of God."
This is when the vice principal made things personal.
"You can go to Hell where they are, too," Ruff retorted, as seen in the video. “They are not children. They are cells."
Playing the gender-identity card
In response, the brother and sister told Ruff that he needed to turn to Jesus, and at this point, Ruff revealed that he is a homosexual.
"Listen here son – I'm as gay as the day is long and twice as sunny," Ruff barked back, CP reported. "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. Prove it to me with science. ... You believe it, [but that] does not make it true. You and Trump can go to Hell."
When Lauren Haines shared with Ruff that Jesus can “set you free from your sins,” the vice principal rebounded by saying that Christianity has no part in public schools.
"[I]t's a public school," Ruff shot back. "We don't believe in that here."
He persisted by trying to shout over the teens’ voices as they shared their message with passersby as part of their Project Frontlines pro-life group.
“I love a parade!” Ruff screamed, according to The Washington Times. “I can sing louder than you can.”
A bystander witnessing what was going on stepped in for the two teens.
“As Ruff continued to block off the protesters from being seen by drivers leaving the parking lot, an older gentleman got into Ruff's face and told him that the teens had a right to speak on a public sidewalk,” Smith recounted.
Against the law
In a court of law, Ruff had no legs to stand on regarding his treatment of the teens.
“Considering that the Haineses were on a public sidewalk, the school district agreed in the settlement that Ruff violated their free speech rights,” Smith reported. “Ruff was placed on administrative leave without pay following the incident. In May, he resigned.”
DASD Superintendent of Schools Emilie Lonardi conceded to the Hainses via a letter that Ruff’s handling of the situation was illegal.
"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," the letter dated July 7 reads. "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."
In addition, the Downingtown Area School District announced that it did not stand behind Ruff’s treatment of the teens.
“We do not condone or support the conduct expressed in the video and are deeply disappointed that this incident occurred,” school officials announced in a statement after the incident, according to a local NBC News affiliate in Philadelphia. “His conduct does not represent the values of the school district or the respect we expect our employees to show for the civil rights of others.”
ADF Senior Counsel Kevin Theriot commended the district for the settlement in a statement.
"No government employee – especially someone with authority over students – should harass or threaten anyone for exercising their First Amendment-protected freedoms in public," Theriot expressed in a statement. "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."