News & Politics

Fake News: No, a Christian School Didn't Expel a Girl Over a Rainbow Cake

Facebook screenshot of Kayle Kenney and her rainbow cake.

Last week, liberal media outlets latched onto the latest horrific example of bigoted Christians forcing their morality on everyone else: a Christian school expelling a girl for posting a picture of herself wearing a rainbow sweatshirt and eating a rainbow cake on Facebook. According to the girl’s mother, the Christian school rushed to judgment and expelled her daughter, who isn’t even gay, over a birthday cake!

This narrative, which plays into the biases of many liberal journalists and LGBT activists, is just as wrong as the narrative of Covington Catholic teen Nick Sandmann disrespecting a Native American man. As it turns out, the school had good reason to expel the girl — and it involved a great deal more than one innocent birthday cake.

Various news outlets picked up the story. The Washington Post ran the headline, “Christian school expels teen after she posed with rainbow birthday cake, mother says.” The New York Post went with “Teen expelled from Christian school after rainbow shirt, cake photo.” Newsweek‘s headline blared, “CHRISTIAN SCHOOL EXPELS GIRL FOR ‘LIFESTYLE VIOLATION’ OF A RAINBOW SHIRT AND BIRTHDAY CAKE.”

The Washington Post‘s Michael Brice-Saddler began the story recounting how Kimberly Alford got a cake to celebrate the 15th birthday of her daughter, Kayla Kenney. “Ahead of the party, Alford instructed a bakery to decorate a cake with colors that ‘pop,’ she recalled. It just so happened that the cake’s rainbow motif mirrored the design on her daughter’s sweater, and she took a picture of Kayla smiling next to it to commemorate the Dec. 30 party.”

“Now, Alford alleges the seemingly innocuous photo caused Kayla to be expelled from Whitefield Academy, a private Christian school in Louisville, where her daughter was a freshman. In an email to the family on Jan. 6, the academy’s head of school, Bruce Jacobson, wrote that Kayla’s enrollment was terminated, effective immediately, because of a social media post,” Saddler added. According to his report, Alford insisted that “her daughter’s matching rainbow cake and sweater were simply a coincidental aesthetic and not intended to mean anything more.”

“Rainbows don’t mean you’re a certain gender or certain sex or sexuality,” she told The Washington Post, adding that she provided the school a receipt from the bakery listing the cake’s design as “assorted colors.” “I’m not saying she’s this or that — she’s just Kayla to me. … I ordered the cake, she didn’t.”

Yet, as Rod Dreher pointed out at The American Conservative, the claim that the rainbow style was “a coincidental aesthetic” is almost certainly a flat-out lie.

He printed the letter the school sent to Alford:

To the Parents of Kayla Kenney,

We are sorry to inform you that due to a continued breach of our school policies and expectations, Kayla is being dismissed from Whitefield Academy, effective today, January 6, 2020. Please see the attached letter which serves as the official notice.

The WA Administration has been made aware of a recent picture, posted on social media, which demonstrates a posture of morality and cultural acceptance contrary to that of Whitefield Academy’s beliefs (see the attached picture). Per our in-person meeting on October 17, 2019, we made it clear that any further promotion, celebration, or any other actions and attitudes that are counter to Whitefield’s philosophy would not be tolerated. As a result, we regret to inform you that Kayla is being dismissed from the school, effective immediately.

Please contact the High School Secretary Lori Fryling with any questions regarding Kayla’s records and transcripts.

Thank you,

B. A. Jacobson, Ed.D, Ed.S

Head of School

The Washington Post quoted from the letter but excluded the reference to a meeting on October 17. This specific reference illustrates the fact that issues with Kenney date back long before this specific Facebook post, and that Kenney’s mother was warned about public celebrations of LGBT pride long before the rainbow cake photo.

“Inaccurate media reports are circling stating that the student in question was expelled from our school solely for a social media post,” Whitefield Academy explained in a statement. “In fact, she has unfortunately violated our student code of conduct numerous times over the past two years. In the fall, we met with the student to give her a final chance to begin to adhere to our code of conduct. Unfortunately, she did not live up to the agreement, and therefore, has been expelled.”

Yet the story gets worse for Alford’s narrative. The statement continued, “All parents who enroll their children in our private school know up front that we ask the students to adhere to a lifestyle informed by our Christian beliefs.”

Parents know up-front because they are required to sign an agreement before their children can enter the school, and the children have to sign it, too. A parent in the school community sent Dreher a copy of the agreement.

“I understand that Whitefield Academy will provide my child with a Bible-centered education in the Christian tradition. The mission of the teachers and administration at Whitefield Academy is to inspire every child to become a mature follower of Christ,” the agreement reads. “I agree to support the standards of the school in every area of its philosophy and policies, including academic, behavioral, spiritual, dress, moral and disciplinary policies.”

The school’s handbook lays out “General Discipline Policies.” That document warns, “On occasion, the atmosphere or conduct within a particular home may be counter or in opposition to the Biblical lifestyle the school teaches. This includes, but is not limited to, sexual immorality, homosexual orientation, or the inability to support Biblical standards of right and wrong (Rom. 1:18-32, I Cor. 6:9).” If the home environment clashes with the school’s Christian convictions, “the school reserves the right, within its sole discretion, to refuse admission of an applicant or to discontinue enrollment of a student.”

Kenney’s Instagram account betrayed Alford’s later insistence that her daughter is not gay. A source close to the school sent Dreher screenshots of the evidence.

One photo shows Kenney escorting another girl to a school dance.

Instagram screenshot provided to Rod Dreher.

In a video posted on October 16, 2019 — one day before the meeting with Whitefield — Kenney describes herself as “finally coming out.”

Instagram screenshot provided to Rod Dreher.

Another Instagram post involves her “getting a gf,” or girlfriend.

Instagram screenshot provided to Rod Dreher.

A post from December suggests Kenney slept with her girlfriend.

Instagram screenshot provided to Rod Dreher.

In a post from June 2019, Kenney throws her Bible into the dryer.

Instagram screenshot provided to Rod Dreher.

As Dreher put it, “Kimberly Alford has been playing the media, and the media have been eating it up, because it confirms their biases (‘Ha ha, look at those crazy conservative Christians, freaking out over a rainbow cake!’). If the media want to criticize a conservative Christian school for not affirming a gay or bisexual student, that’s fair. But what the media have been doing here — painting Kayla Kenney as an innocent unfairly punished by a wicked Christian school — is a lie.

Some activists would use this lie to undermine religious freedom. Chris Hartman, executive director of Louisville-based LGBT group the Fairness Campaign, characterized the girl’s expulsion as “incredibly outrageous” in remarks to the Louisville Courier-Journal. He went on to note that the school has “the authority to expel students who may go against its religious beliefs because of exemptions for faith-based schools in Louisville’s Fairness Ordinance.”

LGBT activists have pushed laws to prevent discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity, and state governments have used these laws to penalize Christian business owners who gladly serve LGBT people but refuse to lend their artistic talents to celebrate a same-sex wedding. Many such laws include exemptions for religious institutions like Whitefield Academy and LGBT activists target those exemptions. Twisted stories like this one will encourage attacks on religious freedom.

Andrew T. Walker, a professor at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, lamented the media’s lack of concern for the school’s religious freedom.

“Throughout the whole reporting, no one to my knowledge seems to have an iota of concern for Christian ethics, private association, or religious liberty. Basically the Constitution. All that matters, it seems, is giving an unsympathetic portrayal of Christians,” Walker said. He highlighted this sentence from The Washington Post: “The school later said in a statement that the decision was a result of two years of conduct violations, but failed to elaborate.”

For this reason, both Dreher and SBTS President Al Mohler suggested that the rainbow cake controversy “could be called Covington Catholic School, part two.”

Tyler O’Neil is the author of Making Hate Pay: The Corruption of the Southern Poverty Law Center. Follow him on Twitter at @Tyler2ONeil.