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I was fired for teaching biology

Have the facts of the human reproduction system become too controversial for classrooms?

St. Philip's College in San Antonio Wikimedia Commons

I was fired for teaching biology

I love the study of biology. It is an affirmation of the beauty and complexity of life at its very core. For the last two decades, I have been privileged to teach the wonders of science to a diverse group of more than 1,500 students at St. Philip’s College in San Antonio.

In November 2022, I opened the school’s approved textbook for a class in human anatomy and physiology and taught the scheduled lesson. Projected on the screen, the slide read: “Perpetuation of the Human Species.” Under the slide title was an anatomical drawing of the reproductive organs of a male and a female. I then explained that the human species reproduces when sperm from the male carrying 23 chromosomes unites with the egg from the female carrying 23 chromosomes. When that union takes place, no additional DNA is added, the zygote begins to divide, human life is formed and 38 weeks later, a baby is born. The baby’s biological sex is determined by a paring of chromosomes: XX for a female and XY for a male.

With that, a presentation I had made for nearly two decades, four students walked out of the classroom. Six weeks later I received an email from the vice president for academic success, stating that Human Resources was “in receipt of an ethics violation complaint” related to my biology class. No further information was given until two weeks later when in a follow-up email, I was terminated. The email said the complaint contained several reports of “religious preaching, discriminatory comments about homosexuals and transgender individuals, anti-abortion rhetoric, and misogynistic banter.”

It saddens me that we have come to the place where, in an institution of higher learning, the feelings and opinions of the students are allowed to usurp the facts of science. Healthy debate is part of the learning process in all educational institutions, but on that day, no debate took place. Only silent protest and a refusal to raise questions in search of the truth.

St. Philip’s College is sending a message that the facts of science don’t matter and that religious people are not welcome and need not apply.

On the weekends, I am an associate pastor at a local church in the San Antonio area. On Sundays, I teach from the Bible. Monday through Friday, I teach from the human anatomy textbook I have been assigned by the school and lectures the school has reviewed. While I never preached in class, the biology I teach aligns with what I believe is taught in the Bible regarding the continuation of the human population. The Bible affirms what biology explains.

I welcome questions in class. Questions are an essential part of the learning process. Given the opportunity that day, I would have gladly entertained opposing viewpoints and discussed them respectfully, all in the pursuit of truth and learning.

When the facts of the human reproductive system are rejected because they are out of sync with popular opinion, science has become irrelevant. Academic freedom is important because without civil discourse or the free exchange of ideas within a classroom, freedom of thought is destroyed.

Since I never had the opportunity to discuss with the administration or talk to the students who walked out in protest, I’m still wondering what the student complaints said. Because I was fired for teaching biology that conflicts with students’ personal viewpoints, education has been turned on its head. Since I was fired because of my religious beliefs that are consistent with biology, that is a violation of my constitutionally protected religious freedom.

The law protects Americans from being punished by their employers for holding or expressing their religious beliefs. St. Philip’s College is sending a message that the facts of science don’t matter and that religious people are not welcome and need not apply.

It shouldn’t take a lawsuit for the college to recognize that it violated my rights, but it probably will. My hope is that I will be reinstated to my teaching position soon so that I can continue to teach students the marvels of biology.

Johnson Varkey

Dr. Johnson Varkey taught Human Anatomy and Physiology at St. Philip’s College, a public community college in San Antonio, Texas. He is represented by First Liberty Institute.

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