STATESBORO, Ga. — Two self-identified atheist activist organizations have prompted an investigation into a university history teacher in Georgia in the heart of the Bible Belt who they accuse of allegedly preaching Christianity and Creationism in his classroom.
The Madison, Wisconsin-based Freedom from Religion Foundation (FFRF) and the Washington, D.C.-based Richard Dawkins Foundation for Reason and Science recently sent a joint letter to the president of Georgia Southern University alleging that Prof. Emerson T. McMullen (“Tom”) is unlawfully promoting religion to his students.
“McMullen appears to use at least some of his class to preach religion instead of teach history,” the letter reads. “Our reports and information indicate that McMullen (1) is known for injecting religion into his classes, (2) gives extra credit to students willing to endure and describe additional proselytizing, and (3) uses his position at a public university to promote religious beliefs like creationism, while undermining legitimate sciences, like biology.”
It contends that because McMullen allegedly speaks positively on Christianity in the classroom, and refutes evolution, that he is violating the U.S. Constitution.
“McMullen not only lowers the reputation and standards of this university, but has created serious constitutional problems,” the groups wrote. “As a public university, GSU is subject to the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment, which separates state and church. … Creationism cannot be taught as scientific fact in public schools.”
The letter further asserts that the professor’s “preaching threatens the integrity of a GSU degree,” and asks that McMullen be investigated and consequently ordered to “cease and desist.”
McMullen, who has been teaching for 24 years and became a Christian many years ago while working as a scientist, teaches courses at Georgia Southern University that include “The Scientific Revolution” and “Science and Religion,” as well as World History. But the professor told the Statesboro Herald that while he is unashamed about his Christian beliefs, he denies that he attempts to evangelize students in class.
“I don’t try to convert anybody,” he told the outlet. “In some of my classes, like for instance, World History I, we’re doing Jainism, Buddhism, Hinduism, Judaism and then Christianity, and then later Islam, and also, I might add Zoroastrianism, Manichaeism.”
Links on the university website include talks that McMullen has presented at various outlets, including a 2001 speech at the Annual Meeting of the Georgia Academy of Science on “The Biblical Basis of Modern Science,” as well as book and movie reviews, such as “Why the Spokane Indians Converted to Christianity.” McMullen also includes text to sermons he has delivered in the past, such as “Curing a Sick Society,” preached to Liberty Presbyterian Church over a decade ago.
He acknowledges that he recently offered students extra credit for writing about a scene in the film “God’s Not Dead,” where a student and his professor debate the existence of God, but says that he also offered another option, and often covers a variety of scientists and philosophers.
“So we cover a lot of topics that could be interpreted as me preaching in the classroom,” McMullen said. “I don’t preach creationism. … [Students] can disagree. That’s what the whole thing about academia is, you know, that there’s a freedom of thought to examine different issues.”
The university states that it is now investigating McMullen, who is an “A” rated professor among students.
Photo: Richard Chambers