A teacher at a US community college in Red Oak, Iowa says he was fired after telling his students not to interpret the story of Adam and Eve as a literal account of events circa BC 4000.
Steve Bitterman, 60, who was teaching a western civilisation course at Southwestern Community College, said he often used extracts from the Old Testament as part of the class. The class was being broadcast to students in a second college in Osceola, and a group of students from that class complained that the teacher was "denigrating their religion".
According to the Des Moines Register, Bitterman said: "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 and have a master's degree, a couple actually, have to teach that there were such things as talking snakes or lose their job."
Describing the class, Bitterman said he had put the Hebrew religion on the same plane as any other, with no god being given a particular preference. He said that he encouraged students to look beyond a literal interpretation of what is an "extremely meaningful story", because he thought a literal reading would miss much of the poetic, metaphoric and symbolic content.
After the class, he said he had a conversation with a student in which he referred to the story of Adam and Eve as a fairy tale. Then he was told that the students had threatened to take legal advice.
Southwestern Community College would not comment on Bitterman's dismissal, describing it as a "personnel matter", but stressed that the teacher's right to free speech had not been infringed.
"I just thought there was such a thing as academic freedom here," Bitterman told the Des Moines Register. "From my point of view, what they're doing is essentially teaching their students very well to function in the eighth century." ®