A 16-year-old student claims her humanities professor at Polk State College in Lakeland, Florida, discriminated against her because she refused to go against her Christian beliefs during class assignments.
The student is dual-enrolled in high school and the college.
The Liberty Counsel, a Christian law firm specializing in religious cases, claims in a press release that "G.L." was given four zeros by Professor Lance "L.J." Russum whose assignments reflected his own bias against Christianity.
The Ledger identified the student as Grace Lewis.
The Liberty Counsel alleges that one of the essay questions assigned by Russum read: “Why did Christianity, and its male gods, seek to silence these women (the nuns)?”
The directions for that assignment allegedly stated:
"SECOND, and this is VERY important, I DO NOT want you to write about how wonderful you think Christianity is now because women can do A, B, or C. History is history and facts are facts and your opinion on if it is better now or not is irrelevant for this discussion.
"This is a HISTORICAL discussion about the middle ages. If you really feel the need to express your opinion on how you think Christianity is now for women you may email me, you may call my office or I would love for you to stop by for a nice cup of hot tea where we can talk about it but it does not belong in this assignment. The pieces your are (sic) reading a (sic) from some of the greatest expressions of mythology by women ever, the question is to honor that voice in that moment of history."
The law firm also claims that Russum's Facebook "likes" and anti-Christian pictures are evidence of his anti-Christian bias. It has not confirmed if the Facebook page in question actually belongs to Russum.
The Liberty Counsel sent a letter to the college to demand the following:
"(1) a full and independent review of Mr. Russum’s behavior and course content; (2) appropriate grading of G.L’s four “zero” assignments by a different professor; (3) a written apology; and (4) assurances that future courses taught by Mr. Russum, if any, will be free from such unlawful discrimination."
According to the conservative website Campus Reform, an outline for the class states: “The point of this is not to ‘bash’ any religion, we should NEVER favor one over another, they all come from the same source, HUMAN IMAGINATION and (sic) they demonstrate that humanity is one.”
The Friendly Atheist notes that Donald Painter, the dean of Academic Affairs of Polk State College, sent an email to Lewis' parents that said:
"I appreciate your concern for your daughter’s education and the quality of our academic offerings. I too take academic quality and rigor very seriously. I have reviewed the materials in Professor Russum’s… course and believe them to be appropriate based on the course description and learning outcomes. Further, I found nothing derogatory or defamatory toward any group of people."
The Ledger notes that Lewis got an "A" in the class, despite getting zeros on her assignments.
The lawyers representing the college sent a letter to the Liberty Counsel claiming the accusations were "baseless, without merit, and absolutely lacking any factual support."
Polk State's lawyers said that Russum's course and assignments for students were part of a "robust exchange of ideas."
The college's lawyers added in their letter to the Liberty Counsel:
"The overall fallacy of your position rests singly on the premise that an instructor should not require a student to consider, discuss or present arguments that are contrary to his/her personal beliefs. Such a position shows apparent ignorance of long-standing academic practice."
What's not clear is how Lewis got an "A" for the class when Russum told her, according to Polk State's lawyers, in a statement that he could not grade her:
"What you hold as a faith system is your personal belief about the gods and goddesses. When you write from a faith position your writing is contrary to the BCI (Basic Course Information Catalog). The BCI is what I am obligated to grade you on. Your answers make it impossible for me to grade when you refuse to follow the course objectives."
The Liberty Counsel is continuing to pursue its demands from the college.