Polk State College in Lakeland, Florida is doubling down in its support of a professor accused of discriminating against and giving failing grades to a 16 year-old virtual student in his Humanities course for defying his anti-Christian worldview in her essays.
Rachel Pleasant, the College’s director of communications, forwarded to Breitbart News the response of attorneys Donald H. Wilson and W.A. “Drew” Crawford of law firm Boswell & Dunlap in Bartow, Florida, which represents Polk State College.
In a letter addressed to attorneys Roger K. Gannam and Richard L. Mast of Liberty Counsel, a nonprofit law firm representing student Grace Lewis and her parents, Polk State’s attorneys wrote:
[T]he College affirmatively asserts that your allegation of discrimination is baseless, without merit, and absolutely lacking any factual support…Your entire letter, which is based upon this hollow and indefensible allegation, fails to acknowledge long-standing academic practice, and legally fails to establish any claim against either the College or its employee.
As Breitbart News reported Wednesday, Grace, a student with a 3.9 grade point average, took a Humanities class taught by Professor Lance “L.J.” Russum. She received a score of “zero” on four consecutive essay assignments given by Russum in which he allegedly demanded that her responses conform to his anti-Christian worldviews.
Russum’s Facebook account, which he has deleted since Liberty Counsel intervened on Grace’s behalf, contained a photo of Jesus with his middle finger raised in an obscene gesture (screen shot below), to which Russum remarked, “I finally have the answer to WWJD.”
In addition, Russum provided his definition of “anti-theism” on his newly deleted Facebook account, in which he wrote, “Ant-theist are not going to argue with a theist about creation of the earth or where humans come from, an anti-theist will ask a theist what happened to you that makes you so dependent on mythology that you use it to escape reality.”
In their letter in defense of Polk State and Russum, Wilson and Crawford argued that many of the issues Liberty Counsel raised “are clearly intended to be inflammatory, but none of which are evidence of religious discrimination.”
The College’s attorneys claim that Grace has not suffered any discrimination since she received a final grade of “A” for the class.
“The four assignments for which she received zeroes were part of fifteen essays required for the class, and those fifteen essays represented forty percent of the total grade for the class,” they write. “Your client received excellent marks on the other work and exams that were part of the class, and the total of those grades entitled her to an overall “A” for the class.”
“Clearly, this student has not been in any way damaged or disadvantaged by the professor’s actions,” the College’s attorneys conclude.
However, in her response to Wilson’s and Crawford’s remarks, Kristin Lewis, Grace’s mother, tells Breitbart News, “While we are thankful Grace’s final grade is reflective of what she deserved, she only received that grade after we spoke with the Dean and obtained the support of Liberty Counsel.”
“In order for her to get a 90, we have observed that Mr. Russum gave her an 80 (with no explanation) after four zeros, gave her a 100 on the final, and then dropped one of her zero papers,” she added. “Her final paper was excellent; but so were the four essays that received zeros. Why the turn around?”
“Working behind the scenes to give Grace an ‘A’ to make us go away is not bringing resolution to our concerns and it does not insure that this same thing will not happen to other Polk State students in the future,” Lewis said.
The College’s attorneys state that school officials reviewed the four written assignments Grace completed – for which she obtained a grade of zero.
“These experienced educators have agreed unanimously that in each instance the student chose to reject the specific assignment that was given, stating that she disagreed with the nature or premise of the question and then launching into an apparent effort to defend her Christian beliefs,” they claim. “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.”
Wilson and Crawford continue that “an instructor could properly require a class to write papers explaining Adolf Hitler’s views on the actions of Germany’s Jewish population.”
“Such an assignment would not be discriminatory against Jewish students or an effort to promote anti-Semitism,” they argue. “Should a student choose to write a condemnation of National Socialism and a defense of the Jewish people, the work would not be responsive to the instructor’s assignment.”
Russum required his students to respond to this question, regarding an article titled “Religious Nuns in Medieval Europe:” “Why did Christianity, and its male gods, want to silence these women?”
Grace’s response which, according to Wilson and Crawford, was deemed appropriately deserving of a “zero” grade, was:
Based upon the resources that I have studied, I must confirm that I cannot arrive at the answer to this question. This is because no information provided by the textbook or the articles gives any objectively presented information that can help one find an answer or an informed opinion.
Specifically, there is no fact based solution to this question. The question is trying to cause the student to take a Marxist, secular humanist, feminist opinion that Christianity is a myth and that it is oppressive of women.
However, if the question is trying to make the case that some historic cultures were oppressive then that is fine, but one cannot blame all the failures of the Middle Ages on Christianity. Furthermore, the question does not even correctly address the godhead of Christianity; instead it offensively criticizes and falsely labels the Doctrine of the Trinity as “male gods”. In true Christianity, there is one God, not several as stated. It is true, God is of three forms (the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit), but He is one God.
The question wants the student to conclude that God wanted to “silence women” because the Judeo-Christian God is a corrupt god created by mankind or mainly “men” to exert control over civilizations and even more so women (which just happens to match the ideology being promoted in this particular course). This opinion is not an objective opinion. There is no information or logic to support that end. Therefore, if I were to answer the question in the way it was intended it would not be supported by anything except uninformed opinion. Overall, this question should be rephrased in order to encourage good scholarship.
In other essays, Grace and her fellow students were expected to concede that Christianity is a myth, violent, or oppressive to women; that Martin Luther’s motivations for the Reformation were entirely secular; and that the intent of Michelangelo’s sculptures and paintings was to demonstrate that “same-sex relationship is NOT A SIN.”
Mat Staver, founder and chairman of Liberty Counsel, tells Breitbart News that the letter from the attorneys representing the College “shows a bigger problem at this school.”
“Russum is a militant atheist who is proselytizing atheism at this school,” he said, adding that, in another example of Russum’s behavior, the professor reportedly required students in one of his classes to keep journals that he would be reading. To one student who wrote, “I believe in God,” in the journal, Russum responded, “You need to drop my class.”
Staver said it has not been difficult to see who Russum is and what he is about since he has put so much information about himself on the Internet.
“A professor should not be proselytizing his personal worldview in his classroom,” Staver said. “It would be just as inappropriate to have an evangelical proselytizing professor.”
“The school needs to respond appropriately to this discrimination against Grace,” Staver added. “What the professor is doing is unconstitutional. He is advocating for hostility toward religion in his class, forcing his students to adopt his militant atheism and failing them if they don’t.”
“We will be responding to the College and holding them accountable for this blatant discrimination,” he asserted.
Grace’s mother states they are doing their part to ensure religious freedom for students at Polk State. Grace appeared with Staver on Fox & Friends on Thursday morning.
“Grace’s religious freedom was violated by Mr. Russum’s supposed ‘exercise in critical thinking,’” Lewis said. “This was not a pedagogical exercise — this was a personal attack.”