Fired for Telling the Truth?

Well, I’ll preface this by saying it happened in Iowa… either that, or Kansas is just getting larger.

A professor at Southwestern Community College in Iowa — community college, not a Bible college — has been fired because he essentially put Christianity on par with other religions and implied that they should not take the Biblical book of Genesis literally:

“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,” [fired Professor Steve] 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.”

Bitterman said he called the story of Adam and Eve a “fairy tale” in a conversation with a student after the class and was told the students had threatened to see an attorney. He declined to identify any of the students in the class.

“I just thought there was such a thing as academic freedom here,” he said. “From my point of view, what they’re doing is essentially teaching their students very well to function in the eighth century.”

“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?”

As a public school professor, he can’t really take sides one way or another on the Christianity issue. But he can (and should) present what academics and experts in the field believe. It looks like that’s what he did. The vast majority of educated people who work in most historical or scientific fields (including Christians) do not believe in talking snakes or a real couple, Adam and Eve. At this rate, every science teacher at the school is going to be tossed aside for teaching that Earth is billions of years old or for saying that evolution is a scientifically accepted theory and Creationism is a bunch of &%*#.

Here’s what the school said in response:

Sarah Smith, director of the school’s Red Oak campus, declined to comment Friday on Bitterman’s employment status. The school’s president, Barbara Crittenden, said Bitterman taught one course at Southwest. She would not comment, however, on his claim that he was fired over the Bible reference, saying it was a personnel issue.

“I can assure you that the college understands our employees’ free-speech rights,” she said. “There was no action taken that violated the First Amendment.”

Why is this a free speech case? It doesn’t sound like he was spouting some angry rant. He was teaching them what experts in so many academic fields believe: the Bible is not a perfect history of anything.

It’s a western civilization class. You’re going to learn about many religions because they play a role in how our world was shaped. The professor’s job is not to take sides or give in to Fundamentalist Christian demands. (That’s only allowed at Liberty University or Patrick Henry College.) A professor’s job is to educate students so they have the knowledge necessary to pursue that subject in more depth if they choose to do so.

One student who appears to have been in Bitterman’s class posted this on the Des Moines Register chat page:

Our class didn’t ask for him to be fired. That wasn’t our goal. Someone complained about him, I dont know why, but the next day in class, while taking attendence, he called her out on it. In front of everyone. He had no right to do that. The issue was between the two of them. Then, as the rest of us were trying to defend her, and tell him what we thought of the situation, he was laughing at us, and at her for walking out. Then proceed to say something VERY wrong to another student. She also walked out. If the comment he made to her, was made to me, i too would walk out. He had absolutely no right to say that. Not to her, not to anyone. Then, as she walked out of class, he sat there and laughed at her too.
The bible has nothing to do with this. If the 1st person who had an issue with him b/c of what he said about the bible, then fine. Leave it at that. He has his opinions and thats fine, he can state them, but when we can’t state our own without him laughing at us for beliving in it, then he has gone too far. And it’s obvious that a couple people reading this have had Bitterman in the past, and know what I’m talking about. So its not just the few of us that were in his class this semester…hes done this before, we’re just the first ones with the balls to do something about it.

So there may be more to the story that we’re not hearing. His firing might have to do with how he’s treating his students, not because of any stance on the Bible.

Hard to tell until we have more information. Though Bitterman has said “that he can think of no other reason college officials would fire him and that Smith, the director of the campus, has previously sat in on his classes and complimented his work.”

(Thanks to Kristi for the link!)

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  • Steven Carr

    ‘. He has his opinions and thats fine, he can state them, but when we can’t state our own without him laughing at us for beliving in it, then he has gone too far. ‘

    Somebody believes in talking donkeys and you are not allowed to laugh at them? What sort of country is America?

  • Maria

    Somebody believes in talking donkeys and you are not allowed to laugh at them? What sort of country is America?

    It is NOT okay to ridicule someone in front of an entire class. If this was an atheist being ridiculed, would you feel the same way? Just b/c it’s a Christian being ridiculed doesn’t make it okay. He can take it up with her in private, but NOT in public. If he did indeed mistreat a student, he does need to at least be disciplined.

  • Steven Carr

    You are right once more.

    I forgot the context of a classroom.

    If a kid says something ridiculous like ‘I believe in a talking donkey’ , or ‘Peter walked on water’, a grown-up should think twice before riduculing these beliefs.

  • AV

    I’m tempted to chalk this up as a victory to the David Horowitz crowd, but you’re right: caution is necessary until we know more of the facts.

  • mollishka

    Whales talk French at the bottom of the sea?


  • stogoe

    Honestly, this is why religion needs a verbal beat down at every opportunity. It’s ridiculous, wholly and completely, and anyone who believes that crap is the worse for it.

  • kristi

    It’s hard to make a judgment without knowing exactly what he said to offend the students. But so far the case sounds very troubling. If they really did let him go mid-semester because of religious issues, he definitely has grounds for a lawsuit.

    P.S. Kansas does still have some scientists. :)

  • Siamang

    I just dig his name: “Bitterman!”

    He sounds like an atheist superhero!

  • Jen

    If the student really wanted let people know what was said, he (she?) should state it plainly. It reminds me of Kathy Griffin- “she said something offensive, but we can’t even tell you what it was!” and then it turns out to be nothing. Come on, student, let us judge what he’s actually saying.

  • Siamang

    Hey, maybe Bitterman and Kathy Griffin said the same thing!

  • Michael W. Jones

    Thanks for the additional information! I tried to contact the school today, but they had taken down their administrative contact link and the phone was being stonewalled, although I could still get hold of building maintenance. ;o) There is almost certainly more to this story than is known at this point. It is possible that the “student post” is just classic spin by the school. We are thinking about interviewing Bitterman, and the school if they will answer questions.


    ps – Since I live in Kansas, I have to believe that there is some chance that there has been a border extension. In Kansas, anything is possible. I just hope it doesn’t mean that the Jayhawk basketball team has to merge with Iowa State.

  • kristi

    ps – Since I live in Kansas, I have to believe that there is some chance that there has been a border extension. In Kansas, anything is possible. I just hope it doesn’t mean that the Jayhawk basketball team has to merge with Iowa State.

    Michael, there are some things you just don’t joke about. :)

  • Michael W. Jones

    Kristi –

    LOL! Yes, you are correct, of course. It was a brief moment of paranoia. My apologies.


  • bipolar2

    So, you think Iowa is bad. Check out the Mass. law on blasphemy — unbelievers, beware. God is numbba one!


    The General Laws of Massachusetts




    Chapter 272: Section 36. Blasphemy

    Section 36. Whoever wilfully blasphemes the holy name of God by denying, cursing or contumeliously reproaching God, his creation, government or final judging of the world, or by cursing or contumeliously reproaching Jesus Christ or the Holy Ghost, or by cursing or contumeliously reproaching or exposing to contempt and ridicule, the holy word of God contained in the holy scriptures shall be punished by imprisonment in jail for not more than one year or by a fine of not more than three hundred dollars, and may also be bound to good behavior.

  • Dazed

    I emailed this Sarah Smith character and ridiculed her. I suggest you all do the same.


    I do not believe in the bible literally and I think that many christians are ignorant to reality but if it is true that this instructor belittled those students then shame on him. That was not professional.