Last week the Mississippi gubernatorial primary race catapulted to national attention when Republican candidate Robert Foster denied the request of reporter Larrison Campbell to ride along with him in his truck for a long day of campaigning – unless she brought a male colleague along.

Foster is a first-term Republican state representative vying to become his party’s nominee in the August 6 primary. He is also a 36-year old married religious Christian who follows the “Billy Graham rule,” named for the late Christian leader who never allowed himself to be secluded with a woman to whom he was not married. Recently, it has also become known as the “Mike Pence rule,” because the vice president also adheres to this boundary and has been widely criticized for it by feminists and others in the secular media.

Long before Billy Graham or Vice President Pence, the Torah forbade seclusions between men and women who are not married or otherwise closely related.

Long before Billy Graham or Vice President Pence, the Torah also forbade such seclusions between men and women who are not married, or otherwise closely related. These are part of the laws of yichud, which are designed to protect both men and women from potentially uncomfortable situations, unwanted advances, and the perception of impropriety.

Campbell, a political reporter for Mississippi Times, had previously interviewed Foster several times, and was the first to report his announcement to run for the primary. Last Tuesday, Campbell wrote in her paper about her denied request and Foster’s insistence that a male colleague was required for the 15-hour campaign trip “because they believed the optics of the candidate with a woman, even a working reporter, could be used in a smear campaign to insinuate an extramarital affair,” she wrote. “My editor and I agreed the request was sexist and an unnecessary use of resources given this reporter’s experience covering Mississippi politics.” Campbell offered to wear a Mississippi Today press badge in plain view at all times, but Foster still insisted on having the colleague along.

Foster’s ire about being shut out of the ride-along opportunity was echoed in many secular media circles: “Mississippi Gubernatorial Candidate's Condition for Female Reporter: Bring A Man,” read NPR’s headline. From the Chicago Tribune: “What it means when a Mississippi governor candidate sees a female reporter and thinks, ‘Sex scandal trap!”

Campbell has bristled at what she has called antiquated logic, “trapped in an era in which politics was primarily a male space and women were not perceived as professional equals. You're only going to assume that it's an improper relationship if, when you look at me, you don't see a woman doing her job, you see a woman who is a sexual object," she told NPR. Asking women to accommodate men who are uncomfortable with the situation was “deeply problematic," she added.

Defending his position, Foster told NPR, “I put my wife and my Christian beliefs above anyone else's feelings or opinions ... and I did not want there to be a perception that I was riding with another female and that something promiscuous was going on or anything like that."

In the #metoo era, it’s no longer only religious Christians and Jews who are choosing these boundaries. Women have made false accusations against men, causing irreparable damage to a man’s reputation. Notorious cases include a 2014 Rolling Stone story accusing University of Virginia fraternity members of a gang rape that never happened. Three Duke University members of the men’s lacrosse team were also falsely accused of rape.

As Winston Churchill famously said, “A lie travels halfway round the world before truth gets its pants on.”

Campbell has claimed that because the issue is really only one of Foster or another man viewing her as an object of temptation, it should be their problem to solve, not hers. But this misses the larger point. False accusations are real, as is Foster’s concern about potential political dirty tricks. In the brass knuckles game of politics, it’s all too easy to imagine such malign chicanery.

Foster answered some of Campbell’s charges by saying that he trusted himself, but not the perception of the world that might see things and then not ask questions or seek the truth. “Perception is reality in this world, and I don’t want to give anybody the opinion that I’m doing something that I should not be doing.” He also said it would be no problem working with female staff members by simply keeping the door open during such meetings.

The safest route, despite the potential inconveniences or annoyances, is to keep the door open during closed-door meetings, or have a third party in a situation.

When I was a very young journalist, I snagged an interview with a famous rock musician. It was an exciting coup for me because I had no previous track record covering music. I was a huge fan of this musician and couldn’t wait to meet him at the studio. But the day before the interview, I was told I’d be meeting him in his Beverly Hills hotel room instead. I thought this was odd and somehow not ideal, while my mother, of blessed memory, saw a photo of this very large and powerfully built man, simply blanched and warned me against it. The interview went well, and when I rose to leave, he hugged me. This was totally unexpected, and even though it was meant to be “friendly” and nothing more, I felt very uncomfortable. It’s the kind of situation that could become misunderstood.

There are no simple answers to complicated situations of men and women working together in private settings. The safest route, despite the potential inconveniences or annoyances, is to follow Jewish tradition and keep the door open during closed-door meetings, or have a third party in a situation such as Foster’s long truck ride-along.

As Foster concluded, “I put my faith and my religion above anyone else’s feelings . . . but I would much rather uphold my vows to my wife over anyone else.”