College Teacher Fired for Telling Students Not to Take the Bible Literally
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Sat Sep 22, 2007 at 06:37:42 PM EST
A Red Oak, Iowa community college teacher says he was fired when Xtianist students complained that he was "denigrating their religion" during his Western Civilization course by putting the Christian Bible on the same level as the foundation books of other religions, and by insisting that it shouldn't be taken literally.
A community college instructor in Red Oak claims he was fired after he told his students that the biblical story of Adam and Eve should not be literally interpreted.

Steve Bitterman, 60, said officials at Southwestern Community College sided with a handful of students who threatened legal action over his remarks in a western civilization class Tuesday. He said he was fired Thursday.

"I'm just a little bit shocked myself that a college in good standing would back up students who insist that people who have been through college and have a master's degree, a couple actually, have to teach that there were such things as talking snakes or lose their job," Bitterman said.

The president of Southwestern and Omaha's Metropolitan Community College and the Director of the Red Oak campus have been denying any wrong-doing and otherwise ducking questions from the press (mainly, thus far, the Des Moines Register). MCC President Barbara Crittendon would only say that Bitterman's firing was "a personnel matter".

The key to the students' anger may have come after the class when one of them came up to complain about Bitterman's statement that Adam and Eve never existed. He insisted Adam and Eve were real people, and Bitterman replied that the whole story was a "fairy tale". The student was outraged, telling Bitterman a group of Xtian students was threatening to see a lawyer.

"I put the Hebrew religion on the same plane as any other religion. Their god wasn't given any more credibility than any other god," Bitterman said. "I told them it was an extremely meaningful story, but you had to see it in a poetic, metaphoric or symbolic sense, that if you took it literally, that you were going to miss a whole lot of meaning there."

If that's why they fired him, for saying that, it's bad enough. But if they fired him because a few fundamentalist Xtian kids complained that he wasn't teaching the correct religious doctrine - a doctrine accepted by a minority of Christians - then we seem to have entered a new McCarthy/Inquisition Age when teaching actual science instead of indoctrinating students in an approved belief system is going to be punished by excommunication and the curriculum re-built, not around science but around conforming to extremist religious beliefs.

"As a taxpayer, I'd like to know if a tax-supported public institution of higher learning has given veto power over what can and cannot be said in its classrooms to a fundamentalist religious group," he said. "If it has ... then the taxpaying public of Iowa has a right to know. What's next? Whales talk French at the bottom of the sea?"

Very possibly.

Taliban II is coming- and this time they're wearing a cross!!!

The fundamentalists think nothing of trying to disrupt college classes.  They also get mad if you teach anything that they don't agree with (such as evolution or TRUE history)- or question them when they start trying to convince people that creationism is real (in class).

Some of the classes that discuss the evolutionary aspects of science that I've attended try to deal with evolution up front in the first day of class- and it gets rancorous and loud!  The professors try to get the disruptive fundamentalists to leave so they can teach in peace.

In fact one professor told the students that evolution was fact, and if they couldn't accept that then maybe they should drop the class, as the science being taught was based on evolution (several walked out!)

It really bothers me that the administration caved to the demands and pressure from the fundamentalists.

Their behavior reminds me so much of what I've heard from people who were forced to live under the Taliban.

by ArchaeoBob on Sat Sep 22, 2007 at 10:11:53 PM EST

to disrupt class at secular colleges. Seminars are given on how to survive attending the infidels' colleges - one of the most prominent of these seminars is given in Colo. Springs and sponsored by FOTF. The Xianist legal shops are actively looking for test cases and are happy to coach students for same, so the kids are sure that they are protected from the consequences of disrupting other people's schooling and of not bothering to either study or answer the question given. Many books aimed at teens and their parents list talking points concerning evolution and other subjects. The overall attitude of the promoters of these books is that no respect is due the teacher or the rest of the class. Just listen to Phyllis Schlafly' weekly program on education to get a bellyful.

I am glad that I teach on the graduate level, in a selective professional school. Otherwise, I'd be having a chess timer on my lectern, and booting people out of the room who attempted to take up more than their 90 seconds.

by NancyP on Sun Sep 23, 2007 at 08:55:00 PM EST

Thanks for the input. I thought I smelled a rat somewhere in the woodwork.  I mean, the kid goes up to talk to Bitterman immediately after the class and threatens him with legal action, explaining that his friends already have a lawyer waiting to sue the college? It could have been an empty threat, I suppose, but it didn't scan like one. Now I know why.

The danger here, tho, to me, is the willingness of the college to collapse in the face of a mere threat. We appear to be living in fear of a right-wing minority even tho it hasn't won a victory on any of these fronts in years. I don't understand it.

- mick -

by mick arran on Mon Sep 24, 2007 at 07:52:16 PM EST
Most of the colleges and universities these days are run as a business instead of an institute of higher learning- and nothing eats into the profit margin like a lawsuit.  Administrations also throughout history have avoided anything remotely controversial.

At my school, I've learned that there are several officially recognized groups on campus that have been banned from other schools for brainwashing and other cult behavior.  The administration rents out space (like the stadium) for fundamentalist group meetings- which then rail against evolution and the very school that provided the space for their ranting.   There are regular programs promoted that teach creationism and oppose evolution.  There are jackleg preachers who come on campus weekly (if not more often) and insult and harass students (trying to convert them by offending them).  I've received numerous invitations to (supposedly sanctioned) activities that I knew were attempts at stealth evangelism.

I sometimes wonder if the administration of my school has been subverted by the dominionists.

by ArchaeoBob on Mon Sep 24, 2007 at 08:15:47 PM EST

That sounds sensible on the surface and I don't doubt there are schools that use it to excuse various inconveniences, but you don't have to dig very deep to realize what a crock it is.

Colleges all sell the same product: useful knowledge. What kind of insane business model deliberately undercuts its only selling point? This is equivalent to an Italian restaurant being invaded by a couple of people who don't just hate spaghetti at the top of their lungs, but deny that there's any such thing as "Italian" food and threaten to sue if the owners insist on selling lasagna. So the owners fire the chef?

That's nuts. Bonkers. Inappropriate, counter-productive, counter-intuitive, and self-destructive. It makes no sense at all.

Any college that would offer a rationale like that has clearly lost its collective mind to a fog of fear, and I ask again: Why are they so afraid? What are they afraid of?

This is a community college whose money comes from the state of Iowa. The Board of Governors is required to follow state education laws, which means it is NOT allowed to turn its science or math or history curriculum into religious curricula in order to pacify loud-mouthed religious fanatics.

So what is the college admin afraid of? Personal attacks? Bombings? Murder? Or discomfort, inconvenience, and dirty looks? What is the level of threat they're reacting to? It certainly can't be legal. Every one of these right-wing Xtianist suits has been thrown out of court but one, and that one was an embarrassing loss at the end of which the judge gave them a severe tongue-lashing.

So what, precisely, do they think they're protecting themselves from? Have colleges teaching evolution, say, received actual death threats? Has any state in the country pulled funding from a community college that insisted on teaching that the earth is round in defiance of some religious sect?

Because if the mere threat of a lawsuit from a bunch of fringe wackos is considered sufficiently controversial to justify firing science teachers because they won't teach fact-free religious doctrines masquerading as science, our education system is in very deep doo-doo indeed.

- mick -

by mick arran on Tue Sep 25, 2007 at 05:15:24 PM EST
The colleges have done this for many years.  It used to be fear of lawsuits and problems with the government if they had anyone who even mentioned the "s" word or the "c" word except in hostile diatribes (socialism or communism).  You dared not mention anything about Marx, even though he had many contributions beyond his ideas about communism- anything that was connected with him was verboten.  There have been many instances of professors being fired for being controversial or talking about something that the elites didn't want mentioned (such as anything that Marx contributed).

Marx was the big bogeyman for the churches of that era.  They got a lot of mileage out of fighting against communism and "the Evil Empire".  

In the area where I live, science teachers below the college level generally don't even mention the word "evolution" for fear of harassment and lawsuits from the churches.  Many of the students I've encountered didn't know what evolution was (except hearing from their preachers that it was evil and a lie), and learning the truth about it opened their eyes.  Others had been so solidly programmed that nothing said could get them to see beyond what their masters wanted them to see.  These last ones create a lot of headaches, let me tell you!

Besides the weekly jackleg preachers who come on our campus to try to insult everyone into the Kingdom of God, there are a few extra fundamentalist preachers who appear and offend everyone they can.  They use language that would get me booted from most blogs in their preaching, so I won't repeat what they say- but I will say that for the most part, nothing is done about them.  The police say that these people are not only there to "save souls", they are trying to provoke the school into banning them from campus so they can sue the school- so the school does nothing, even though my wife has seen one of those preachers (a regular) reduce young women to tears.  Another time they used language against a young women that was so bad (and false) that her boyfriend punched out the preacher.   Yet these preachers still show up, and they still preach their hellfire and brimstone.  When the cops themselves say that the school is trying to avoid lawsuits, that should say something to you.

So, let's see.  1. History of professors being fired because they taught something that angered the elites.  2. Schools below the college level often not even mentioning evolution for fear of lawsuits.  3. Schools tolerating VERY offensive language from preachers in order to avoid lawsuits. 4. Problems like the Dover situation and what the topic of this thread is about.  Yes, I think that there is sufficient evidence to indicate that colleges would be likely to avoid lawsuits like the plague, especially since in the last few years, they are being run more and more as a business- and businesses have long avoided lawsuits because it eats into their bottom line.

By the way- receiving actual death threats- it HAS happened.  And if you do just a little research, you will learn that certain branches of dominionism would either KILL or "RE-EDUCATE" us if they could.  It's there in black and white- in their own words.

If you don't believe me- read what has happened to the judge of the Dover trial.  He's been dealing with death threats from "good Christians" since the hearing.

Finally, if you'd see the students and the problems I've seen, you'd start saying that the educational system IS in deep trouble.  I've dealt with graduating seniors that couldn't write worth a flip, and who expected to get an "A" for "F" work.  Cheating is a regular problem in many of the undergrad classes- and students want us to do the work for them.  They don't follow directions- shoot, most times they don't even READ the directions!  (The stories I could tell of students who never read the directions, or even the syllabus...)

by ArchaeoBob on Tue Sep 25, 2007 at 11:30:50 PM EST

I'm well aware of the history of the suppression of any and all discussion of socialism. I lived through it. And in New Hampshire, at that time the most ultraconservative, downright reactionary state in the union. The John Birch Society was considered mainstream there.

There is a critical difference between the suppression of an unpopular political philosophy and the suppression of scientific fact. Political philosophies unfriendly to dominant cultural beliefs have been suppressed since the time of the Greeks. It's a standard device, particularly for empires. OTOH, we haven't seen suppression of science by religious forces since the Catholic Church threatened Galileo with excommunication for agreeing with Copernicus and Galileo shut his mouth.

That act brought on the dark age of the Inquisition, and for nearly a century European science was stopped in its tracks. There hasn't been a time since that yoke was thrown off when the suppression of science was accepted by law or culture, at least in the West, and that time isn't now.

2. Schools below the college level often not even mentioning evolution for fear of lawsuits.

Absurd, cowardly, and unjustified. Why should they be afraid of lawsuits that will most likely be thrown out long before they go to trial? I realize there's an expense involved in defending oneself, that's part of the religious right's strategy. But 90% of these things are denied legal status at the preliminary hearing because there is NO legitimate legal theory on which they can be based. They're a joke, nuisance suits that courts have no patience with.

That's a pretty minor threat you've got there. So, again, what are they afraid of? really?

As for the death threats, I'm aware of credible ones, certainly, against abortion clinics and doctors, and certainly the Dominionists feel as you describe, but I am not aware of any credible death threats against any school anywhere in the country because someone in it is teaching evolution.

And even if such credible death threats exist, the question is, did the Red Oak admin receive any? If they did, they should have been turned over to the police because the Xtianists have just crossed the line from civil intimidation to criminal behavior. If they have not, then rank cowardice is the only explanation that leaps to mind.

And why, may I ask, are you defending them? They have effectively allowed an empty threat to dictate their hiring policy and invade their disciplinary procedures. The message to the fundamentalists is, "If you so much as raise your voice to us, we'll cave in."

Having lived through the McCarthy Era, I can state unequivocally that surrendering to bullies doesn't work. You have to take a stand against them or they'll run you down like a rabbit.

Two short cases in point: the CLF tried twice to force the Northhampton, Mass school district to allow prayers in elementary and high schools. They cost the city a good deal in legal fees, but they were unceremoniously shot down both times. They haven't been back since.

The last evolution challenge to get in an actual court was in Dover, PA. The biggest names in ID appeared for the plaintiffs and they were humiliated, both by the court and the press. Dover has been free of legal challenges from the religious right ever since.

If we give in to their intimidation tactics, they'll push harder and harder until they get what they want: every school a Xtian school, every class a course in Xtian doctrine. If we stand up to them, they'll go looking for an easier target.

Please, don't enable them by defending the cowards who knuckle under to toothless threats and loud-mouthed bullies.

- mick -

by mick arran on Wed Sep 26, 2007 at 12:50:18 AM EST
Put the blame where it lies- with the dominionists.

I'm aware of other situations where the deciding factor was the threat of lawsuits (I'm not at liberty to name them, however).   Many, if not most of the schools make their decisions based upon the bottom line these days.  Witness the way different programs are funded!

I too would like to see the schools start standing up to the dominionists.

RE: the Dover trial.  I actually know a lot about that trial and the aftermath- I downloaded the memorandum opinion and read the entire thing, as well as followed it closely in the news while it happened.  I also have communicated with Dr. Miller in the past on a few occasions, and I've read his book.

Now, I will admit that my impressions are colored by living in an area that could best be described as dominionist central USA, as well as having to deal with dominionists on a regular basis (they do NOT like the class I help to teach).  I also know from my experiences with the churches that the threats are real- I was a member of a dominionist cult (which was part of the reason I left school 28 years ago, and only returned 4 years ago).  Some of their preaching against the colleges (with the exception of their "own") was really violent.  If you want an example, all you have to do is go outside of one of the more active buildings on Wednesday afternoons- and listen to the "preachers" rant and rave at the students!  I mean- telling them that they deserve to die and go to hell because they do any number of things on a "hit list" (including accepting evolution)!  I've heard that myself- although the "die" part was on only one occasion- the usual is "You will go to hell because you ___.

They also promoted vandalizing anything to do with evolution and homosexuality.  I confess that I did that 28 years ago, at the behest of the preachers I followed (actions of which I am very ashamed these days).   I defaced and tore down posters, and the one time I was caught- insulted the person terribly (luckily, I did not get into big trouble- and left the school the next semester partially because of the "encouragement" of the pastor).

It still goes on today- anything on campus that relates to evolution is likely to be vandalized, as I've personally seen as recently as last month.   Vandalizing anything to do with homosexuality (also other non-Christian religions) is less likely these days because of the hate crimes legislation- and that may be why they are so hostile to those laws.  However, I HAVE seen stealth evangelization fliers posted right over ones advertising anything to do with gay rights or other religions (such as Wicca).

I removed one yesterday that had been put right over a poster promoting a new organization for liberal/progressive Christians.  There were multiple copies on that bulletin board, and funny thing- most of them covered things that the dominionists don't like.

Yesterday I was also accused of being prejudiced, because I did not join the organization I'm president of to another "non-religious" organization in promoting a dominionist front activity on campus.  I had told the president of the other group that they were promoting something directly connected with the "Joel's Army" brand of dominionism and that I didn't think they would want to do that- and that I wasn't interested and that I was sure that my organization would not be interested (we promote critical thinking and scholarship, not brainwashing!).

So, my experiences DO color my perceptions of what is going on in other areas.  They are pervasive and getting worse here- why not there as well?  

And, knowing of the situation and pressures being faced on a regular basis by different adminstrations, I can also understand why they might cave in the face of a lawsuit (although I disagree with their decision!)

What is needed is forcing the dominionists who bring these lawsuits to cover all costs of defending freedom of speech and religion.  Once it starts hitting their wallet as well, maybe they will think twice about trying to force themselves on others.

by ArchaeoBob on Wed Sep 26, 2007 at 01:24:10 PM EST

I apologize for taking so long to answer this. I hope you notice it after all this time. I have 2 other blogs and have been so busy this past month that I could barely keep up with them and had to let this one go entirely.

First, I want to thank you for sharing your story and your perspective. I understand where you're coming from, but I can't just "blame the Dominionists". The problem is a practical one: the Dominionists aren't going to stop unless somebody stops them. It's that simple. While I can respect what the school is up against, I can't afford to respect its decision because that decision enables and empowers the Dominionist assault.

What is needed is forcing the Dominionists who bring these lawsuits to cover all costs of defending freedom of speech and religion.  Once it starts hitting their wallet as well, maybe they will think twice about trying to force themselves on others.

I'm not sure that can be done, legally. I think it would depend on either the local law or the particular judge. My understanding is that some local law requires that each party pay its own expenses, at other times a judge can order either the winner or the loser to pay, depending. But I'm not a lawyer and I don't know that for sure. Certainly it would be worth looking into.

Altho I still have to wonder about the efficacy of that approach. Groups like the CLF have incredibly deep pockets as they're funded by some of the richest fundamentalists in the country. I'm not so sure an attack on their wallets would be terribly effective.

As for the rest, I don't know if Iowa is teeming with militant Dominionists or not, but even if it is, that can't be allowed to excuse the school's betrayal of its mission. Fear may be real and as justifiable as your examples indicate it is, but that doesn't alter the school's responsibility to engage the people who are trying to destroy its meaning and purpose.

To return to the law for a moment, one thing I am certain of is that, legally, only the school would have the "standing" to take action. Other entities could help by filing FOC briefs or aiding by raising a legal defense fund, but only the school administration could bring the perps to court. The ACLU often takes cases like this pro bono, but it doesn't sound as if that possibility was even considered before the school caved.

I'm sorry for the school and sorry that it has to take such risks but there isn't any other option unless it is prepared to abandon its mission to the Dominionists altogether. You should know better than anyone that they'll never quit as long as they think they can win. It sucks, but that's the reality we're dealing with.

- mick -

by mick arran on Tue Oct 23, 2007 at 01:23:12 PM EST

It must be because we are all evolution-hating, inbred members of the Christian Taliban in SW Iowa.  Couldn't possibly have anything to do with personnel matters being confidential BY LAW - nah, that would be too easy!

Perhaps, if Mr. Bitterman were to waive his rights to that confidentiality, the school would be able to explain its action.  Maybe the press should be asking those questions, and talking to others who were there, rather than taking the word of a disgruntled former employee as the whole story.

by liturgygeek on Tue Sep 25, 2007 at 10:27:02 PM EST

I read a whole lot of hatred from most of these comments... There are a SELECT FEW that carry out the type of "preaching by insults" most of you talk about... I would argue the reverse, as it is the "religious haters" that disrupt the majority of college seminars around the nation (as evident by the multitude of attacks on religious speakers during - and even before they can begin their speeches). I personally saw Pat Robertson get "boo'ed" off a stage by haters before he was able to begin a seminar on religious values... Talk about the far right; It is the far left that comes to seminars and disrupts the events! I have yet to see those of faith charge into a seminar about evolution, or anything else, and refuse to let a speaker talk. But the far left does it on a continual basis...
I propose that this teacher got fired because he tried to pass off his opinion as fact... Instead of trying to teach that there is only one option (that is to say, his opinion) about a biblical story, he could say there were several different possibilities that may be correct. Proposing those options allows the students to reach their own conclusions. After all, isn't that what teaching is all about? Deciding which option (given all the facts) makes most sense to you? Or are we all just supposed to believe whatever our teacher says is "true", and not make our own conclusions...
And don't bring that weak argument about evolution being in contradiction to religious beliefs... The leading "evolutionists" in the world today believe our universe came from a "big bang", and that the big bang derived from a "singularity"... Isn't that what the Christian faith has taught all along??? That God is One, and brought all things to be...

by Hollywood297 on Fri Dec 28, 2007 at 03:36:17 PM EST

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