Monday, December 12, 2005

More on Mirecki

Latest developments in the story about Paul Mirecki: Anti-creationism professor: Resignation was forced.

An interesting blog comment: Academic Freedom.

A professor at Johnson County Community College, in Overland Park, Kansas, Professor of Biology Paul Decelles has an interesting blog that addresses issues of intelligent design and academic freedom, and he has a number of posts about Mirecki. He seems like a sensible person and writes that "Now granted e-mails are not private but I doubt Mirecki is alone in having written inappropriate emails." Whatever else this case may be, it's also a renewed warning that one should not write in an e-mail anything you would not want printed on the front page of your local newspaper.

On the question of whether it's legitimate to mock other people's religious beliefs and practices. An interesting example is presented by J-Walk Blog, who makes fun of Orthodox Jews who don't use electricity on Sabbath and avoid doing so through various technical strategems, such as the Shabbat alarm clock. He refers to this and other devices that allow people to use electrical appliances on the Sabbath as "probably one of the most absurd religious practices of all time." A few weeks ago Christopher Hitchens wrote an article in Slate attacking the practice of metzitzah be-peh (defined as "after removing the foreskin of the penis, the practitioner, or mohel, sucks the blood from the wound to clean it"). Hitchens, in his inimitable fashion, lambasted those who engage in this practice as well as politicians who hesitate to condemn it (in this case, Mayor Michael Bloomberg of NYC).

Are either of these writers wrong to mock or criticize Jewish practices? Not in my opinion. As far as I'm concerned they're free to make fun of Judaism or any other religion. I'm also free to disagree with them and argue against them.

People who teach religion on the college level do not lose their right to free speech by virtue of their jobs - including mocking speech about others. I don't think there's a place for that in the classroom, but if a professor wishes to make fun of others outside of the classroom, why is that wrong? There are a lot of things that people say that I don't like, but that doesn't give me the right to stop them from saying them or to dismiss them from their jobs for saying them. My only concern is basically a pedagogical one - in the classroom, or in other professional capacities, professors should behave in a respectful fashion towards students, regardless of whether they agree with what those students are saying on intelligent design or anything else. I also think that professors should do their best to refrain from one-sided advocacy in the classroom. This doesn't mean that they should avoid controversial topics or keep silent about their own opinions, but that they should educate students that there is more than one side to most arguments, and that it is worth listening to several points of view and analyzing them.

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