An anatomy and physiology professor was fired after his students complained that his lecture about human reproduction, human development, and chromosomes amounted to discrimination against transgenders.
For 20 years, Dr. Johnson Varkey had been teaching science at St. Phillips College, a public community college with several campuses in San Antonio, Texas. According to his complaint filed with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, Varkey believes that he was fired for his faith, a violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act.
The trouble began last fall. During a lecture on the human reproductive system, Varkey taught his students that sex is determined by X and Y chromosomes, as he has without incident for two decades. He also taught that when a sperm and egg meet, they form a zygote and after approximately 38 weeks a baby is born. Varkey stated that because no new information is added during those 38 weeks, life begins when a zygote divides, not when a baby is born. Varkey said that the slides he showed students came from the textbook that was approved by St. Phillips.
On November 28, 2022, four students walked out of Varkey’s lecture. On January 12, 2023, Varkey received an email saying that he was under investigation for an ethics violation due to student complaints. When he asked what the complaint was about, the school refused to provide any information. On January 27 Varkey received notice of his termination, which stated in part,
“St. Philip’s College has received numerous complaints that were submitted to Joint Base San Antonio Training and Education regarding your classroom behavior while facilitating in an official teaching capacity on JBSA-Lackland last semester, which is found to be unacceptable. The complaint contained several reports of ‘religious preaching, discriminatory comments about homosexuals and transgender individuals, anti-abortion rhetoric, and misogynistic banter.’ While some of the subject matter may be connected to class content, it was very clear, from the complaints, that you pushed beyond the bounds of academic freedom with your personal opinions that were offensive to many individuals in the classroom.”
Varkey is a volunteer associate pastor and he does believe that God created humankind as male and female and that a person’s sex is ordained by God. “Although these are my religious beliefs, I never mentioned them in class. I did not preach any of my beliefs in class. Thus, the allegation that I conducted ‘religious preaching’ is unsubstantiated,” Varkey wrote in his EEOC filing.
“Separately, my faith—as well as my integrity as an academic—forbids me from teaching or affirming statements that I believe are false. I believe that I am obligated as a Christian and as a professor to teach accurate, true concepts that comport with my many years of research and study in the field of human biology,” he said.
“While I never preached or proselytized in class, the accusation of religious preaching was clearly in connection with the fact that I serve as an associate pastor. I would mention this by way of introduction at the beginning of each semester, so my students were aware. The College assumed I was preaching rather than teaching due to negative, discriminatory stereotypes about Christians. This perception was inaccurate and discriminatory,” he charged.
Varkey claims that the school never let him see the students’ complaints nor allowed him to talk to the students. The school also never explained the students’ accusations.
He is represented by First Liberty Institute, a legal organization “dedicated exclusively to defending religious liberty for all Americans.” Keisha Russell, counsel at First Liberty, said in a statement,
“No college professor should be fired for teaching factual concepts that a handful of students don’t want to hear. Dr. Varkey received exemplary performance reviews for nearly two decades, teaching fact-based, widely accepted science. But now that cultural elites are at odds with these ideas, the school no longer supports professors who teach them. It is a blatant violation of state and federal civil rights laws to discriminate against someone because of their religious beliefs.”
Varkey has been teaching this course for 20 years and likely has not changed anything about how he presents his material; what has changed is society’s insistence that basic biology is mutable and subject to opinion.
While we don’t know exactly what was said in the lecture and we don’t know what the students’ complaints were, we do have Varkey’s filing and we know that a growing percentage of university students treat biological fact as hate and will launch into temper tantrums to try to prevent those facts from being heard. Universities have continually silenced professors and speakers who won’t toe the line when it comes to issues such as gender identity. Even St. Phillips’s termination letter reads as a complaint from a left-wing student who cannot handle being taught facts that differ from their own belief system. Facts are facts, regardless of the side of the ideological aisle which adopts them.
Sex is determined by chromosomes. A zygote in the womb is life, whether pro-abortionists want to acknowledge the life as worthy of being born or not. These are not religious platitudes from a sermon; they are facts which are empirically proven and which the Bible affirms. The fact that science and the Bible agree doesn’t mean those facts are off limits.
If this situation is as it seems, a handful of students who have not been raised and educated to engage with views they dislike and who instead have been indoctrinated to believe that a person can change their sex were angered because they came face to face with a reality that doesn’t comport to what they were told by propagandists. Unable to handle the truth, they complained to the university. And rather than encourage these students to learn from and debate with their professor, the college capitulated to their ridiculous demands and fired Varkey.
Hopefully, the EEOC will recognize this is a classic case of discrimination and, with it, send a notice to those universities tempted to capitulate to the noisy tantrums of students who can’t handle scientific truth.
Ready to dive deeper into the intersection of faith and policy? Head over to our Theology of Politics series page where we’ve published several long-form pieces that will help Christians navigate where their faith should direct them on political issues.