An assistant principal in Pennsylvania was put on administrative leave after a heated argument last month with two teenage abortion protesters that was caught on video.
Zachary Ruff, of STEM Academy in Downingtown, Pa., confronted two abortion protesters on April 21 in front of his school. One held a sign with a graphic image of an aborted fetus. A heated theological debate, sometimes involving bystanders, ensued.
“Sir, we’re actually exposing the holocaust that’s happening in America,” said Conner Haines, a home-schooled 16-year-old who was protesting at the school with his 19-year-old sister, Lauren Haines.
“There is no holocaust happening in America,” said Ruff, who has been with the Downingtown district for 13 years. “If you want to talk about a holocaust happening in America, go into an inner city, and talk to the poor and underprivileged.”
“Sir, these are image bearers of God,” Conner Haines responded, referring to the poster of the fetus.
“You can go to hell, where they are, too,” Ruff said.
The argument continued for more than 15 minutes. Ruff and the protesters argued about abortion, the Bible and science. At a few points, Ruff sang the showtune “I Love a Parade” to drown out the protesters.
One passer-by confronted Ruff, calling him a “loony, wacko liberal.” Others appeared to support him, shouting abortion rights messages.
Among Ruff’s statements:
“I wish to protect my students from unsightly things.”
“They’re not children — they’re cells! You are at a science-based school.”
“Just because you choose to believe a book of fiction doesn’t mean I have to.”
“This isn’t the time or the place to for you to harass innocent schoolchildren who have nothing to do with your twisted, perverted agenda.”
“You and Trump can go to hell.”
“Listen here, son: I’m as gay as the day is long and twice as sunny. I don’t give a f— what you think Jesus tells me.”
On Saturday, the school district apologized in a Facebook message and said that Ruff had been placed on administrative leave.
“We do not condone or support the conduct expressed in the video and are deeply disappointed that this incident occurred,” the message said. “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.”
In a statement, Superintendent Lawrence Mussoline said he had received messages criticizing the decision to put Ruff on administrative leave but thought the assistant principal’s behavior may have violated the expectation that “all administrative, professional and support employees are expected to conduct themselves in a manner consistent with appropriate and orderly behavior.”
“We need to ensure that nothing like this happens again,” Mussoline said. “Unfortunately, this is now national news for our excellent school district.”
Ruff now faces a hearing over the incident that could result in his termination, according to a spokeswoman from the school district. A message left at a number for Ruff found in public records was not returned.
The Haines family is represented by the Alliance Defending Freedom, a Christian legal organization, which demanded that the brother and sister have the chance to address interested students at an after-school assembly.
“People of faith shouldn’t be discriminated against for expressing their beliefs,” ADF senior counsel Kevin Theriot said. “That’s exactly what happened here.”
Lauren Haines, who is studying to be a birth doula, said she and her brother originally intended to protest at a different school that day, and said the incident showed “divine intervention.”
“We believe that life starts at conception, and abortion is murder,” she said. “It’s not just a doom and gloom message. … We want people to know they can be saved from their sins.”