DES MOINES Iowa
A college instructor in Red Oak claims he was fired after he told his students that the biblical story of Adam and Eve is a fairy tale and should not be interpreted literally.
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 … have to teach that there were such things as talking snakes or lose their job,” Bitterman said.
“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.”
School President Barbara Crittenden would not comment on whether Bitterman was fired over the Bible reference, saying it was a personnel issue.
“There was no action taken that violated the First Amendment,” she said.
Bitterman, who taught part time at Southwestern and Omaha’s Metropolitan Community College, said he uses the Old Testament in his western civilization course and teaches it from an academic standpoint.
He said some students thought Tuesday’s lesson belittled their religion.
“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.”
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 said the college, by firing him, “is essentially teaching their students very well to function in the 8th century.”
Hector Avalos, an atheist religion professor at Iowa State University, said Bitterman’s free speech rights were violated if he was fired over his comments about Adam and Eve.
“If he’s teaching something about the Bible and says it is a myth, he shouldn’t be fired for that because most academic scholars do believe this is a myth, the story of Adam and Eve,” Avalos said. “So it’d be no different than saying the world was not created in six days in science class.
“You don’t fire professors for giving you a scientific answer.”
Information from: The Des Moines Register, http://www.desmoinesregister.com
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