Two Christian pro-life teenagers who were harassed and told to “go to Hell” by a gay Pennsylvania public school vice principal when they were protesting abortion outside of the school on a public sidewalk have agreed to a settlement with the school district.
According to the Alliance Defending Freedom, the Downingtown Area School District has agreed to clarify its policies to assure that the public sidewalks surrounding the district’s schools are open to those wanting to use their First Amendment rights to publicly demonstrate, even if what they are demonstrating is at odds with school officials’ political views.
The settlement comes after Conner and Lauren Haines were interrupted by Downingtown STEM Academy Vice Principal of Student Life Zach Ruff when they were demonstrating on the public sidewalk in front of the school while students were leaving for the day on April 21.
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. 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.
In a video posted to YouTube, Ruff can be seen telling the Haineses they have no right to talk to students on school property. At one point, Ruff can be seen grabbing at a sign held by Conner Haines.
t the beginning of the interaction between the siblings and Ruff, they tell the administrator that they are simply trying to expose “the holocaust that’s happening in America.” Ruff responded by stating that there is “no Halocaust happening in America.” Conner Haines then told Ruff that “these [unborn children] are the people that are being murdered,” adding, “these are image bearers of God.”
“You can go to Hell where they are too,” Ruff said in the video.
“They are not children. They are cells,” Ruff argued.
When the Haineses told Ruff that he needed to turn to Jesus, that is when Ruff revealed that he is gay.
“Listen here son. I’m as gay as the day is long and twice as sunny,” Ruff yelled. “I don’t give a f— 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,” Ruff continued. “Prove it to me with science. … You believe it, does not make it true. You and [President Donald] Trump can go to Hell.”
Ruff responded again when Lauren shouted that Jesus can “set you free from your sins,” by arguing that “it’s a public school” and “we don’t believe in that here.”
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.
Considering that the Haineses were on a public sidewalk, the school district agreed in the settlement that Ruff violated their free speech rights.
Ruff was placed on administrative leave without pay following the incident. In May, he resigned.
A letter sent to the Haineses by Superintendent Emilie Leonardi on July 7 admitted the illegality of Ruff’s actions.
“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 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.”
ADF lawyer Kevin Theriot praied 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 said. “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.”