Professor fails student for refusing to condemn her Christian faith

Lj Russum, a humanities professor, allegedly assigned papers that forced students to deny the existence of God and contest that Christianity is oppressive to women.

Subsequently, a 16-year-old student received a “zero” on four essay assignments.

A professor at Polk State College has allegedly failed a humanities student after she refused to concede that Jesus is a “myth” or that Christianity oppresses women during a series of mandatory assignments at the Florida college.

According to a press release from the Liberty Counsel, a non-profit public interest law firm, Humanities Professor Lance "Lj" Russum gave a student a “zero” on four separate papers because the 16-year-old did not “conform to his personal worldviews of Marxism, Atheism, Feminism, and homosexuality.” The law firm has called for a full, private investigation of the professor and the course curriculum.

The course description for the class, “ Introduction to Humanities,” claims that students “are under no obligation to agree with classmates, authors, or the instructor, in fact, the instructor will often occupy the space of ‘Devil’s Advocate’ for the purpose of lively discussion.”

“The point of this is not to ‘bash’ any religion, we should NEVER favor one over another, they all come from the same source, HUMAN IMAGINATION and [sic] they demonstrate that humanity is one,” a copy of Russum’s class outline, riddled with grammatical errors, says.

“We have much to thank of [sic] humans like Michelangelo who took a sacred space, a temple to god, and made it a HUMAN space, a space where humanism can meet with god and discourse,” one course assignment read. “Finally humanity and the gods are on equal footing and that is what the myths of Hercules, Apollo and Jesus are all about—the divine becoming human and human being divine."

In her essay, the student, who Liberty Counsel identifies as “G.L.,” argued that “it is a logical fallacy to make the assumption that Christian humanism’s goal was to ‘blend mythologies and make man the center’ simply on account of Michelangelo’s artwork or because Renaissance artists incorporate classicism.”

The student apparently received a zero on that assignment.

Another assignment allegedly required students to discuss how “fortunate” Martin Luther was to be born in a historical moment that allowed him to “challenge the mythos of the power structure of the church.” The assignment required students to write only about the humanism of Luther and his reformation—and students were instructed in bolded text to keep theology out of the paper:

“WHAT YOU MUST NOT WRITE ABOUT: 1. This is NOT about Luther's theology

“2. Any quotes from his sermons or writings MUST be about humanism and how the reformation is in the right place and right time in history NOT some divine providence of the gods

“3. You must stay focused on the history of the humanism of Luther and his reformation IF You turn this into a theological debate or divine providence I will NOT read it and you will be given a zero.”

She failed that assignment as well.

Another description on the course outline criticized Christianity as one of the “most violent forms of religion the world has ever seen,” and bashed the religion for its “dominance by powerful men.” The description, supposedly for a class centered on the role of religion in the Middle Ages, claims that today’s major religions “STILL attempt to regulate the bodies of women.”

One assignment supposedly required students to argue why “did Christianity, and its male gods, want to silence” a specific group of nuns.

“SECOND, and this is VERY important, I DO NOT want you to write about how wonderful you think Christianity is now because women can do A, B, or C. History is history and facts are facts and your opinion on if it is better now or not is irrelevant for this discussion,” the assignment, obtained by the Liberty Counsel, read. “This is a HISTORICAL discussion about the middle ages. If you really feel the need to express your opinion on how you think Christianity is now for women you may email me, you may call my office or I would love for you to stop by for a nice cup of hot tea where we can talk about it but it does not belong in this assignment. The pieces your are [sic] reading a [sic] from some of the greatest expressions of mythology by women ever, the question is to honor that voice in that moment of history. Christianity.”

According to the Liberty Counsel, Russum’s Facebook page—which appears to have been deleted or unlisted via the website’s privacy settings—included photos of Jesus making an obscene gesture, and his email signature supposedly includes a quote from a Marxist.

“These, along with the inapropriate course content, show that Professor Russum is seeking to impose his own values on students, in violation of the Constitution,” the press release states.

In an email to G.L.’s parents, obtained by Liberty Counsel, Dean of Academic Affairs Donald Painter said that he had reviewed the materials presented in Russum’s Humanities 2020 course and “believe[d] them to be appropriate.” Painter apologized that the student and her family found the course materials to be “distasteful,” but said the materials would not be modified.

Painter, who did not respond to an emailed request for comment from Campus Reform, reminded the student’s parents in the email that they had signed an agreement with her dual-enrollment that acknowledged they were aware that some course material may be developed for “the adult student, age 18 or older.”

“According to its website, the college’s core values are service, integrity, knowledge, diversity, and leadership. No student should be subjected to such outrageous bias and outright hostility to their values by a professor. Being a professor is not open season to belittle and punish students merely because they do not subscribe to the professor's radical opinions,” Mat Staver, founder and chairman of Liberty Counsel, said in the press release.

The Liberty Counsel is asking for not only a full and independent investigation of Russum and the humanities course materials, but also a written apology, re-grading of the student’s assignments, and assurance that Russum’s future courses will be free from discrimination.

“In this age of grade inflation it is difficult to earn a grade of zero much less four consecutive zeros. Professors who do so are likely to be sending a message,” Dr. Mike Adams, a professor at the University of North Carolina Wilmington and no stranger to religious bias in academia, told Campus Reform. “A cursory examination of this professor's test questions leaves little doubt about what that message is. The school would be foolish to ignore reasonable requests for an independent investigation. Otherwise they may be on the receiving end of another kind of message in the form of a civil complaint.”

According to the website Rate My Professor, Russum has an overall quality rating of 4.3 and the average grade of an “A.” His page is also adorned with a chili pepper to indicate his physical attractiveness. One student labeled him a Marxist and feminist in 2011.

Russum did not respond to an emailed request for comment from Campus Reform.

Polk State College officials said the school's legal counsel is reviewing the issue but declined to comment further to Campus Reform.

Richard Mast, a lawyer with the Liberty Counsel who is assigned to the case, told Campus Reform that the school has yet to respond to the Liberty Counsel's letter but have until Friday to do so. The Liberty Counsel is prepared to "take further action," if needed, Mast said. 

"In terms of egregious behavior by professors, this is certainly one of those cases that will forge new ground on what not to do," Mast told Campus Reform in an interview. 

"This is the most wildly inappropriate behavior I've seen that reflects a growing hostility towards religion--Christianity in particular," Mast said. 

According to Mast, the Liberty Counsel does have more documents in a file on Russum's classroom behavior that the firm has not yet released. 

The public state school, located in Lakeland, Fla., has more than 10,000 students enrolled.

Follow the author of this article on Twitter: @K_Schallhorn