After Christian School Suppresses News Story About Pedophile Professor, a Brave Student Tells the World

You don’t always see student journalists take big risks and break stories but Alex Green, the editor-in-chief of Bryan College’s student newspaper in Dayton, Tennessee, did just that on Monday and it’s really an incredible story.

Bryan College is a Christian school founded in the wake of the local Scopes Monkey Trial and David Morgan was a professor of Biblical Studies there.

Biblical Studies professor David Morgan in 2011 (Chloe Pool – The Bryan College Triangle)

Over the summer, Green found out that Professor Morgan wasn’t returning to the school. When he pushed further, he got a message from the school president Dr. Stephen Livesay saying that the professor was off “to pursue other opportunities.”

That didn’t seem right. So Green dug deeper and discovered what the school officials weren’t telling anyone:

Morgan had been arrested in June and faced charges after “after having attempted to meet with a minor child” at a gas station.

Whoa! That’s a major story! That’s a story everyone at the school needed to know, especially since the school was trying to keep it under wraps.

So Green wrote up an article and scheduled it to be published last Friday. It wasn’t an opinion piece — it was a fact-based report about what the local sheriff’s department had on record about the case.

It never saw the light of day. When President Livesay heard about the story, he blocked it from getting published.

In a lot of cases, that might have been the end of the scoop. Green wasn’t done, though. In his mind, the school had no business blocking such an important story and he knew he had to get it out there. So he did it on his own:

“I placed [copies of the article] around campus and at the doors of dorm rooms and at public areas around the school,” he tells Romenesko readers. “They were primarily in the main administration building, the library and the student center. … [A PDF] was emailed and entrusted to a select few current students and alumni in the case that fake papers began to surface.”

Here’s the article in question:

Green also included a sidebar message on why he felt this was such an important article to print, responding to those who might compare Bryan College to Penn State:

I am aware that on the heels of the Penn State football tragedy, the minds of many people will jump without much thought to similarities between us and them.

Bryan College is not Penn State.

Bryan College is not Penn State because there are people here that will not attempt to save face by dusting over the arrest of Dr. David Morgan.

Printing this story will not cause a Penn State situation for Bryan. I believe it will prevent one.

That’s why I’m dispensing it.

“We are Penn State” was their approach. “Christ above all” is ours.

The Christ angle is irrelevant — Green did the right thing from a journalistic standpoint and he deserves to be commended for it:

Alex Green

Oh. For all his sleuthing, Green could face expulsion. No word yet on how the school plans to deal with him. ***Edit***: President Livesay has said there will be no punishment for Green.

There was a school-wide Q&A session scheduled by President Livesay but no real word yet on what was said or how Livesay addressed the problems.

(via Jim Romenesko)

About Hemant Mehta

Hemant Mehta is the chair of Foundation Beyond Belief and a high school math teacher in the suburbs of Chicago. He began writing the Friendly Atheist blog in 2006. His latest book is called The Young Atheist's Survival Guide.

  • I_Claudia

    I don’t know that it’s fair to say that “the Christ angle is irrelevant”. Certainly it’s irrelevant to us, but I have no reason to think Mr. Green is being anything but sincere in his affirmation. Many Christians do actually believe that their faith imposes a higher standard of behavior on them. This can be reflected in disgusting bigotry towards non-believers, but it can also be reflected in selfless and upright behavior that is deeply wrapped up with their faith.

    Probably unlike Green, I believe he would be an honorable and brave young man without his Christian faith, or any faith. However that doesn’t mean his faith is irrelevant or had no bearing on his actions. If nothing else,  he is very shrewd to use this language. Reminding a school of the faithful that their ultimate loyalty should be to their religious principles and not their school will make retaliation against him by the administration that much harder to justify.

    • TiltedHorizon

       I agree, the “Christ angle” is only irrelevant to us, if Mr Green wants to credit his faith for giving him the courage to follow his convictions so be it. The act of doing the right thing, regardless of what inspired it, is still doing the right thing.

      Now I just hope his school decides against compounding really bad decisions, Green should be commended for living up to the standards the school fell far short on.

    • jennifer arthur

      I took his inclusion of the school’s motto as his way of comparing the two schools as such: neither puts the students or community first. Both schools held ideologies that prompted them to protect the pedophiles above what was best for those attending the college or anyone who had or would come in contact with the pedophiles.

      • Stephen

        Morgan resigned after his arrest. That doesn’t sound like “protection” to me.

        • Coyotenose

           Suppressing information about his arrest, thus making it less likely that other possible victims will know to come forward and more likely that victims will be created in the future = protection.

        • Scott Moul

          Blocking the freedom of the press does sound a bit like protection, don’t you think?

          While it allowed due to Hazelwood v. Kuhlmeier, I don’t see any reason to block a story relating to the safety of the community…unless, it is to hide something.

    • Drew M.

      You consistently have the most thoughtful and well-written comments and replies here. Please tell me you have a blog I can follow. :)

      • I_Claudia

         Thank you for your kind words. I have no blog of my own, but besides comments I also write posts for Friendly Atheist (author name Claudia, with no I_). I’m embarrasingly infrequent compared to Hemant, but I try to have some posts every month. I hope you enjoy them :-)

  • Croquet_Player

    To the extent that religious persons promote themselves as being well above pedophilia and likewise abhorrent crimes, and present themselves as being “safer” guardians of vulnerable populations such as children, the disabled and the unwell elderly than atheists, I suppose we can remark on appalling criminal acts such as these.   But as much as it pains me to say so, every population will have criminals withing its ranks.

    • grindstone

      The last sentence needs to be bolded.  Criminal activity, divorce, disease, happiness, health, homosexuality, anything you can name…..has likely a similar distribution within the religious community than without.  You [religious folk]  are not “set apart”, you are not different because you practice a religion.  Stop the delusional thinking that you are.  And oh, by the way, here are some statistics.

    • Gus Snarp

      I don’t see any real comment on the criminal act in this blog post though, the blog post is about the administration’s attempts to censor a young journalist, even going so far as to threaten expulsion. This isn’t so much a story about a pedophile teaching at a Christian school as it is about how religion gives too much power to authority figures, insulating them from listening to reason in their decision making, from having appropriate review and due process on their decisions, and allowing them to believe it is appropriate to punish people who they feel have flouted their authority, even if all they did was publish publicly available information.

  • http://andybreeden.com Andy Breeden

    I’m in shock. They made a Christian school??

  • http://andybreeden.com Andy Breeden

    He who troubles his household will inherit wind, and the fool will be servant to the wise. – Proverbs 11:29
    Kind of fitting. Hey, the Bible has misses and hits.

  • Aaron Scoggin

    I’m betting that he’ll face expulsion for an “unrelated reason”. The Christian higher-ups don’t like to be showed up.

    • Don Gwinn

      That’s entirely true as far as it goes, but it kind of implies that if the higher-ups weren’t Christian, they’d be more likely to handle the situation appropriately.  It’s been my experience that nobody likes to be shown up, and many people in positions of power are tempted to do whatever it takes to keep from being “shown up” rather than the right or appropriate thing.  I haven’t seen religion or the lack of it make much difference in that.

      • ganner

        Conservative Christian institutions, however, place a very high value on obedience. Do as you’re told, and respect your elders.

        • http://www.facebook.com/abb3w Arthur Byrne

          It’s arguably suggestive of a shame culture rather than a guilt culture. The harm is not in how the sin damages their integrity, but how others’ learning of the sin damages their reputation.

          • ganner

            I’d agree. Similar to the shame a Bible belt family feels if they have a gay child or an apostate child. You’re bringing shame on the family, the family’s image in the community is harmed.

            • https://twitter.com/#!/OffensivAtheist bismarket

               Christians say “Pride” is a bad thing don’t they?

  • jdm8

    I would say that any organization is the kind of place that could become a “Penn State” if they ever have someone that’s critical to their operation and they are willing to lie and cover up any wrongdoing to save face.

    Opacity is a breeding ground for corruption.

    Also, the “Christ angle” does have a point. If you set yourself up as the morally superior system, you fall by that pride.

  • Ibis3

    I wonder if the school tried to quash the story because they’d made an agreement with Morgan to keep things quiet if he would just quietly resign in return.

  • Rachel

    If he does somehow (ironically) get expelled for what is essentially the practice of solid journalism, I’m willing to bet he’ll have the attention of a number of top-notch J schools, and one hell of an entrance essay.

    • http://gloomcookie613.tumblr.com GloomCookie613

      This. He’s shown a real “go get it” quality that good journalists need to have. I wish him luck.

  • http://www.facebook.com/AnonymousBoy Larry Meredith

    Very good of him to have brought this to the public.

    However, Hemant, I would have used the word “sexual predator” instead of “pedophile”. They aren’t the same thing. Those who try to prey on children may not even be pedophiles. Pedophilia is the sexual attraction towards prepubecent children, but sexual predators will go after children because they’re easy prey even if they aren’t specifically attracted to children. Also, we have no idea whether or not the person David Morgan tried to victimize was prepubescent or a post-pubescent teenager. While preying on teenagers is just as rotten, a sexual attraction towards teenagers isn’t pedophilia, it could be hebephilia or ephebophilia.

    • freemage

       One could readily argue that the ephebophile is the worse of the two, in fact.  The pedophile is, ultimately, a victim of a sickness in his brain, who can hopefully find a compassionate and effective therapist BEFORE they act on that defect.  Because this defect is so harmful, a pedophile who does act on those desires needs to be incarcerated and separated from society, but one can at least view them in much the same light as a severe schizophrenic or other mental illness sufferer who finally cracks and hurts someone.
      The sexual predators who seek out post-pubescents who are still underage, OTOH, seem to be motivated more by a desire to be able to control and manipulate the target, rather than an innate preference for that age group.  As such, they are more accountable for their actions, and more predatory in nature.

    • Anna

      There’s also the matter of age-of-consent laws. In some states, a man who has sex with a 17-year-old is a criminal. In other states, he isn’t. Whether someone who meets an older teenager for sex is classified as a predator might come down to something as random as where he or she happens to be located.

  • Briman1970

    I know how they should proceed; they should fire President Stephen Livesay for lying about why the teacher left the school and suppressing freedom of the press.

  • newavocation

    I just wonder how much influence the Xians have in keeping this out of the local papers. I mean just about every arrest seems to make it in the papers. This arrest would have been front page stuff. 

  • Sean

    Just wanted to clarify a few things here, as a student from the college who works for the Triangle (the student publication).

    Upon writing that Morgan was off to other opportunities you write that “That didn’t seem right. So Green dug deeper.” Actually according to the sidebar that you did not include in your article, he thought that made sense. In his own words, “I had already expected a man of his knowledge and
    ability to be snatched up by a better-paying institution at any time.” It wasn’t until he was made aware of the arrest that he did any digging.

    “For all his sleuthing, Green could face expulsion.” Actually, no. Had you done your homework, you would have discovered, like NewsChannel 9, that “President Livesay tells us Green will not be disciplined for the incident.  He says he hopes everyone can learn from what happened.” Dr. Livesay indicated expulsion was unlikely even yesterday, though whether or not any disciplinary measures would be taken hadn’t been decided (so he decided to take a day to respond to the action)

    Finally, “The Christ angle is irrelevant.” Not at all. The Christ angle is why he decided the cover-up could not be tolerated. That is also on the sidebar.

    • Rebekah

      Thank you, Sean! As a fellow Bryan student, I appreciate you ensuring the facts don’t get twisted. I’m a bit hesitant to enter these online debates and address the un-educated comments that seem to be plentiful. But you’ve given me courage.

      Because I, like you, want others to realize there’s more to the story than is being printed in the papers and published on the internet. It doesn’t necessarily matter where we stand regarding the whole situation. But we are the ones in the middle of this. So who would be better equipped to shed light on the truth than us–the students, the ones closest to this whole thing?

  • Will Jones

    Green was never threatened with expulsion.  Bryan College informed faculty and concerned students of the reason for Dr. Morgan’s resignation/forced dismissal over the summer, they just didn’t make a public announcement of it, perfectly within their right.  Morgan has been charged and posted bail, and there were no records of student abuse while he was at the school.  Morgan offended on his own time, with his own property, and was dismissed upon being booked by the authorities.  It was a serious mistake to squelch the article, but Bryan College can hardly be charged with protecting a pedophile or persecuting a journalist.  Alex will not lose his position as editor, and he will not be kicked out of the school; even a cursory examination of the facts reveals this.  The students involved handed out these fliers in the middle of the Administration building, twenty feet from the president’s office in the middle of the school day, and no one made any attempt at all to stop him at all.  Bravo to him for his good piece of journalism.  Shame on you Mr. Mehta for your misleading one.   

  • macarpenter

    A Past Children’s Director Reviews

    Bryan College’s Response to

    Dr. Morgan’s Arrest and Resignation.

     

    The FBI caught Dr. Morgan in a child protection task
    force sting.  In order to lawfully
    engage a target, the FBI must have reason to believe that a target has an
    established proclivity to the offense; otherwise the offender has a legal
    defense of “entrapment.”  In other
    words, the FBI cannot lure otherwise law abiding people into crimes,
    without first having a reasonable belief, based on evidence, that they are
    likely to commit the crime. 
    Indeed, the FBI press release reported that Dr. Morgan’s online
    conduct had brought him to the attention of the task force.  Therefore, Dr. Morgan’s actions that
    led to his arrest were probably not his first foray into inappropriate
    sexual actions with minors. 

    Had Bryan College Trustees and Administration
    previously adopted a sound written policy to address this kind of
    situation?  Obviously not.

    Did the Administration respond appropriately to the
    factual context: an arrest by a child protection task force sting?  No.

    Did the Administration seek legal counsel, who
    could explain Dr. Morgan’s arrest in context?  It doesn’t seem likely.

    If the Administration had understood the context of
    the child protection task force sting and the legal defense of
    “entrapment,” would they have viewed Dr. Morgan’s protestations of
    repentance differently?  Perhaps.

    Bryan College Administration did not discharge Dr.
    Morgan or suspend him pending the outcome of the criminal charges.  Rather, the Administration allowed Dr.
    Morgan to resign.  Furthermore, the
    College allowed him to remain employed for FOUR WEEKS after the
    Administration knew of the serious criminal charges.  They learned of the charges July 3, but
    his resignation was effective July 31. 
    This continuation of employment for four weeks falsely implies
    that no misconduct led to his resignation.
    In an email to the Triangle (student newspaper), the
    College Administration stated that Dr. Morgan resigned “to pursue other
    opportunities.”  

    There were no “other opportunities.”  The Administration lied to the
    student newspaper.

    The email also included a statement attributed to
    Dr. Morgan giving glowing praise to the College for the wonderful years
    he had spent there, the wonderful relationships he had made, etc.,
    confirming the lie that no misconduct had led to Dr. Morgan’s
    resignation.

    The College says it was attempting to implement
    Christian principles and its motto: “Christ above all.”

    Did the Administration’s lying and deception
    fulfill Bryan College’s motto?  It
    would seem not.

    Was Bryan College’s conduct consistent with the
    Christian teaching of loving one’s neighbor, or did the Administration
    focus only on the well-being of the Kingdom within the narrow confines of
    its campus?

    Just as the Catholic Church transferred pedophile
    priests to new a parish to prey on a new flock of unsuspecting children,
    Bryan College sent out a sexual predator without warning, so that the
    next college, high school, or church youth group in which he landed would
    be just as unsuspecting as they were when they hired him. 

    Aren’t the shepherds called to protect the lambs
    from the wolf?

    So now, what will the Board of Trustees do?

     

    • guest

       you have already posted this in other places, what is your agenda?


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