CBN News spoke with Maddi Runkles, the young woman who has been banned from her high school graduation, about her story. Watch that interview above.
Today is graduation day for Heritage Christian Academy in Hagerstown, Maryland. It's a day that would normally be all about celebrating, but for this school, it's been plagued by a national controversy.
While 15 students are graduating, one will be missing from today's event — and it's the one with a baby bump.
Maddi Runkles she didn't want her painful mistake to become a negative national news story, but now that it has, she says it's created a conversation that Christians need to be having.
The pregnant high school senior spoke out to CBN News about her Christian school's controversial decision to ban her from graduation next week.
She agrees there should be consequences for her sin, and she was disciplined months ago for what she did.
"I was punished immediately when my school found out, which I knew was going to happen, and I accepted that. I knew that I had consequences because I had broken a rule: No sexual immorality," Maddi tells CBN News.
But now that she has also been barred from participating in her own graduation, she feels her punishment has been disproportionate and could even push other pregnant teens to consider abortion to avoid such "harsh" treatment.
"I feel like it's just because people can see what I've done and they don't want to have that there on the night of graduation because they think it will look bad or hurt their reputation to have a pregnant girl walk across the stage," she says.
Heritage Academy is defending its decision to bar Runkles from her graduation ceremony.
School administrator David Hobbs wrote a letter to the Heritage family saying the school is disciplining the student "not because she's pregnant but because she was immoral."
The academy has a strict conduct code that forbids sexual immorality as well as the use of alcohol, tobacco, and illegal drugs.
A recent New York Times profile on Runkles drew national attention to her situation and ultimately led Hobbs to write publicly about the board's decision.
After Runkles announced her pregnancy earlier this year and asked for forgiveness, the school responded with several punishments including a two-day suspension and removing her from her student council position. They also banned her from the graduation ceremony on June 2nd.
"It's hard also to explain to non-Christians that I know. It's hard to witness for Christ when they see Christians shaming the pregnant girl and not wanting much to do with her," she tells CBN News.
Maddi's father sat on the school board but recused himself from the situation involving his daughter. Ultimately, he quit the board in protest over how the school treated her.
Maddi says her goal is not to "take down Heritage Academy" but to help others who may be in her situation by getting her story out there as an example to help the pro-life community and Christian schools think deeper about the issue.
"You don't treat pregnant students this way just because they're pregnant. They broke a rule, they have to serve the consequences for breaking that rule. But you don't continue to punish them over and over again," Maddi said.
Pro-life activists have offered support for Maddi, saying the decision to bar her from graduation is a mistake that will push some students toward choosing abortion.
Kristan Hawkins, the president of Students for Life, told the New York Times, "she made the courageous decision to choose life and she definitely should not be shamed."
Hawkins said she called Hobbs to privately discuss the situation and "to come to a compassionate understanding and resolution."
In a public statement, she expressed dismay at the school board's actions saying it has "either intentionally or unintentionally communicated to the school community that pregnancy (not simply premarital sex) is a shame and should not be observed within our school community."
Hawkins argues that Runkles has been singled out for special punishment just because she's pregnant.
"From what we've learned thus far, no other student in the school's history has been banned from walking at graduation for failing to abstain 'from sexual immorality and from the use of alcohol, tobacco, and illegal drugs.' Maddi is the only student, past or present, banned from walking at graduation," Hawkins said.
Runkles has said that her child's father does not attend Heritage.
Pro-life teen activist Autumn Lindsey has also publicly supported Runkles with a video that accuses the school of promoting abortion by punishing Runkles so severely.
"We have to change how we treat pregnant students," she said, "we have to offer more than an iron fist or a conduct code."
Hobbs says that the school is pleased that Runkles did not choose abortion. He says that he is concerned that the Heritage family will think that "the board and I are harsh, cruel, hard-hearted men," and explained that the decision came after "countless hours" in prayer and discussion.
Hobbs also said he hopes the graduation ceremony will be a night where God is glorified "in a dignified manner."