Last week, teenage siblings Conner and Lauren Haines stood outside Downingtown STEM Academy in Pennsylvania — on public space, it should be noted — to protest abortion and annoy people about Jesus. One online Christian publication referred to them as “abolitionists” who wanted to talk to students about the “Holocaust” that kills fetuses. It’s the same terminology used by the Haineses.
They have every right to protest like that no matter how misguided they might be. And the proper response is to ignore them… or figure out a way to stage a counter-protest, though that sort of thing is usually reserved for the likes of Westboro Baptist Church and not a couple of random Christian preachers.
The problem is that Assistant Principal Zach Ruff confronted them. He took their bait, got angry, and started arguing from a place of rage. And, of course, the students were hoping that would happen because they were ready with a video camera.
Ruff didn’t come off looking very good. He was an adult arguing with people who were 16 and 19 years old. And while an edited version of the video got a lot of attention on Facebook, the longer one (above) didn’t make Ruff look any better.
The encounter got heated when the teens started talking about the “holocaust of abortion” and Ruff barked, “They’re cells. … You’re at a science-based school.” At one point he said, “You can go to hell, where they are, too,’” motioning toward the sign.
During the confrontation, he also snapped, “You and Trump can go to hell.”
Later, Connor Haines said, “Sir, you need to turn to Jesus Christ.”
“I’m as gay as the day is long, and twice as sunny,” Ruff declared. “I don’t give a [expletive] what Jesus tells me and what I should and should not be doing.”
As someone who generally agrees with what Ruff is saying, this is just a bad move on his part. You don’t argue with people going out of their way to get a rise out of you. That’s what they want. And now the other administrators are in the awkward position of trying to condemn his actions while defending their colleague who has an otherwise stellar reputation.
“We are so dismayed, so dismayed,” said Patricia McGlone, a spokesman for the district, the eighth largest in the state. “We don’t condone or support” Ruff’s actions. “We believe those students had a right to be out there on public sidewalks.”
[Superintendent Lawrence Mussoline] said that he has “a lot of respect for” Ruff, but that his “comportment” was “something that I would never have expected from this educational leader.”
We don’t yet know what the punishment will be, but students at the school have created a petition asking the District not to fire Ruff. They also plan to speak up at the next school board meeting.
That’s all well and good, but I’d be shocked if Ruff gets off without some kind of punishment. He’d deserve it. Not that he should be fired. I think it’d make far more sense to have him issue a public apology that includes an explanation of what he did wrong (so it’s clear to everyone that he understands he crossed a line).
For now, he’s been placed on “administrative leave” while District officials figure out their next step. They shouldn’t be guided by the Christians calling for his head on internet comment threads. If they’re wise, and they view this incident as a mistake done with the best of intentions, they ought to reprimand him, then forgive him.
Isn’t that what Christians think Jesus would do?