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The Scarlet Letter (1926 film)

Maddi Runkles signed a pledge, along with all her schoolmates, based on “Philippians 4:8 (including language about ‘whatever is pure’) that ‘extends to my actions, such as protecting my body by abstaining from sexual immorality and from the use of alcohol, tobacco, and illegal drugs.’”

A girl is not allowed to walk at graduation because she is pregnant.

A girl broke the rules. A girl received punishment for breaking the rules (she was also suspended and removed as president of the student council).

A few thoughts, accompanied with some questions.

First: I think it highly unlikely no student has ever been caught with alcohol, drugs or under the influence at this school because it is so common nationwide. What is the precedent in enforcing this pledge? Were other offenders also suspended, removed from extracurricular involved and denied the privilege of walking at graduation? I do not see a precedent discussed in articles related to this girl. Suppose Johnny was caught in possession of marijuana in 7th grade, or Sandy was high freshman year. For school authorities to claim they are simply enforcing the rules, offenders of other types of crimes should not be allowed to walk at graduation either, no matter how much time has passed. Runkles is being punished for a sin that took place months ago. It is not possible to prove when the last offense occurred or how many times. Is there a statute of limitations in place? What would happen if she had the baby as a junior? Would they still not allow her to walk one year later, no longer pregnant, assuming she continued at the school anyway?

Second: the school has put in place unenforceable rules. Are there dormitories on campus? How would the school know if the students were engaging in sexual behavior in order to punish them? Unless there are dormitories on campus, it is very unlikely the students would engage in sexual behavior on campus and thus very unlikely to get caught in the act. Only a girl who is pregnant could be “caught.” When this became a rule rather than a pledge, the question should have been asked, how will we enforce this? Seeing that it would Scarlet Letter young women, they should have acknowledged they cannot regulate this behavior and sought some other way to reform the fallen.

Third: on what Christian tradition is this system based? The children signed a pledge. We could compare that to baptismal promises. The girl broke her promise. She states she went to the school, confessed her sin and asked for forgiveness. I hope this school teaches about purgatory, otherwise, I cannot see a biblical Christian precedent for their treatment of her. It seems too much like the wrong side of the woman caught in adultery and not enough like the woman at the well.

I am not proposing what the school should or should have done in this particular case, other than considered more carefully the injustice and foolishness of having a punishable rule like this in the first place. The Sacrament of Confession would also make the whole situation easier.

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