A pro-life group is firing back after a high school senior was forbidden by her Christian school from participating in her graduation ceremony because she is pregnant.
In an interview with TheBlaze, Maddi Runkles, 18, said that when she discovered she was pregnant earlier this year, her parents and her church supported her decision to choose life. Her school, however, chose to punish her.
Runkles, who attends Heritage Academy, a small private Christian school in Hagerstown, Maryland, was recently informed that the school would bar her from participating in its June 2 graduation ceremony due to her pregnancy.
Runkles said that the school requires its students to sign a code of conduct to avoid things like premarital sex, drugs, and alcohol — but the code does not lay out specific punishments for infractions. She said that she understands that it’s fair to be punished for breaking rules, but her punishment has been much more severe than those given to other classmates who have broken the code. Other punishments for code violations have been smaller, such as an in-school suspension or a suspension from participating in an athletic event.
“They’re seeing my actions as worse because there’s a visible consequence to it,” Runkles said. “They can see the result of my sin, but I don’t think that means I need to be treated worse just because you can see what I’ve done.”
Runkles said that by calling attention to the Heritage Academy’s decision, she is not seeking to “bash” the school, but wants the Christian community to have a discussion about what it means to be pro-life “when it isn’t a convenient situation.”
She said that she understands that the community doesn’t want to appear as if it were celebrating premarital sex, but “there has to be a way to go about it where you’re not making girls feel shamed for choosing to give her baby life.”
David Hobbs, the administrator at Heritage Academy, did not immediately return TheBlaze’s request for comment about the school’s decision.
Hobbes told The New York Times in a written statement that Runkles will earn a diploma, and that her pregnancy is “an internal issue about which much prayer and discussion has taken place.”
The Runkles family reached out to the pro-life group Students for Life of America with Maddi’s story. The group is launching a campaign to get supporters to ask the school to reconsider its decision. They are also throwing her a graduation reception.
Kristan Hawkins, the president of Students for Life, said in a statement that “when we heard about Maddi’s situation, we wanted to not only help her, but also show all of her peers at the school, and in schools across the nation, that choosing not to have an abortion is a good thing and should be supported as such, not made into a cruel embarrassment.”
Hawkins said that “by treating Maddi without the grace mandated by our Christian faith and handing down a punishment that was inconsistent with how other students were punished they created a terrible example of what being a pro-life Christian is really supposed to embody.”
“Maddi has been receiving an incredible amount of love and support from her family, her friends and her church, and her school should be no exception,” Hawkins said. “Not allowing Maddi to walk in her graduation ceremony sends the message that being pregnant in a Christian school is an embarrassment that should be hidden away. If the school doesn’t handle this properly then this example may be the turning point causing many students to turn away from the pro-life and Christian message — and if we can stop that from happening, then we will.”