Childcare workers say a non-denominational boarding school founded by chocolatier Milton Snavely Hershey is now pushing its own brand of anti-LGBTQ Christianity on often-underprivileged students.
Two former “houseparents” at the Milton Hershey School filed a lawsuit saying administrators required them to take part in specific religious programming, which is against the tenets created by the school’s founder. Just two years ago, the school was hit with a similar lawsuit by a former student who said administrators tried to “pray the gay away.”
The more recent complaint was filed by a married couple, Bradley and Val Darrington, who say the religious indoctrination at the school was “discriminatory” and offensive to their “personal religious beliefs,” as well as those of other employees and students.
The Darringtons say they were fired on December 29 as retaliation for sticking up for secular students and their beliefs. They specifically note “mandatory religious trainings” that involved “inflammatory images” and threats of hellfire for not believing in a literal interpretation of the Bible. They also had to oversee evangelical prayer sessions, proselytize, and attend meetings at which they were warned that non-believers were waging a “war” in this “Christian Nation.”
Those are incredible allegations against a school that’s meant to be non-denominational and non-preachy.
Milton Hershey is the nation’s wealthiest boarding school for disadvantaged children, serving an especially vulnerable population of students, as well as their parents and guardians.
The school falls under the governance of the state attorney general’s office, which oversees its massive $13.8 billion endowment. The endowment, funded in part by The Hershey Co., dwarfs that of many elite universities.
Recent Milton Hershey graduates, alumni and former houseparents told PennLive that they had been subjected to a fervent brand of socially conservative evangelicalism.
The school, founded in 1909, was established as a non-denominational institution, though grounded in Judeo-Christian heritage. School guidelines, however, prohibit staff from pressuring students to convert from their own faiths.
It’s clear that Hershey never intended to force religion upon students at this boarding school. In fact, he created the school to give disadvantaged kids a leg up in the world in which they are often treated as second-class citizens. Yet these administrators are pushing the school in a direction that actually hurts kids instead of helping them. LGBTQ students are apparently a special target:
In the federal complaint, the Darringtons claim the school fired them after they complained about religious discrimination.
The Darringtons have also filed two charges alleging the school violated Title VII, via religious discrimination, and the Pennsylvania Human Rights Act.
Milton Hershey was approximately two years ago the target of another federal lawsuit filed by a former student. Adam Dobson charged that Milton Hershey discriminated against him because he suffered from depression and suicidal thoughts. He contends his mental condition was aggravated when he was publicly humiliated by houseparents attempting to change his sexual orientation and “pray away the gay.” Dobson said he was made to watch an anti-gay video after he was caught downloading gay pornography.
The school denied these kinds of allegations earlier in the year, adding that they rigorously reviewed any complaints, though they haven’t commented on this particular lawsuit. But when there are this many people making similar allegations, it’s hard to imagine they’re all making everything up. The school will need to do a lot more to show it’s living up to its founder’s vision.