Dr. Paul Mirecki, the University of Kansas professor who found himself embroiled in controversy recently, stepped down from his post as the chair of the Religious Studies department at KU.
Mirecki is threatening to sue KU for forcing his resignation and the Douglas County Sheriffs for “treating him more like a criminal than a victim” according to the Lawrence Journal-World who also reported KU’s statement that Mirecki’s decision to resign was his own.
The resignation decision was announced on Dec. 8, but the controversy started in late November when Professor Mirecki and KU announced that a new class, “Special Topics in Religion: Intelligent Design, Creationism and other Religious Mythologies” would be taught in the spring semester by Mirecki.
Due to the timing, the class seemed to be a response to a change in Kansas school policy. See, earlier in November, the state Board of Education modified teaching standards for public schools in Kansas allowing for evolution to be taught more critically, according to foxnews.com. This ruling was seen as a victory for intelligent design proponents, but it outraged many in the academic community.
Mirecki publicly commented on the new course offering saying, “Creationism is mythology. Intelligent Design is mythology. It’s not science. They try to make it look like science. It clearly is not.”
Labeling intelligent design and creationism religious mythologies was enough to fan flames of outrage. The Lawrence Journal-World reported on Nov. 22, that intelligent design advocates thought this was demeaning. John Calvert of the Johnson County Intelligent Design Network said, “To equate intelligent design to mythology is really an absurdity, and it’s just another example of labeling anybody who proposes (intelligent design) to be simply a religious nut.” John Altevogt, a columnist and activist called Mirecki a bigot in the article and questioned his credibility as a religion professor.
Then the fire got hotter. A leaked email that was sent Nov. 19th announcing the class by Mirecki to a list-serve for the Society of Open-Minded Atheists and Agnostics angered people even more than the class itself. In it he called Christians “fundies” and said his class would “be a nice slap in their big fat face” to teach it as religion. “Of course, I won’t actually be teaching I.D. and creationisms (sic), but rather I’ll be teaching ABOUT I.D. and creationisms (sic) as modern mythologies, indicating that these ideas have no place in a public school science class,” wrote Mirecki. He signed the email, Evil Dr. P.
Altevogt told The Capital-Journal that he would send a copy of the email to all the legislators in Kansas because of the religious intolerance and hate-mongering at the university. He also called for Mirecki to step down as chair of the religion department.
Shortly thereafter, more anti-religious emails that Mirecki had written came out as well.
Mirecki issued a public apology on Nov. 29 in which he said, “My words were offensive, and I apologize to all for that.” The University of Kansas also changed the name of the class to “Special Topics in Religion: Intelligent Design and Creationism.” Many people were still upset though, including State Sen. Kay O’Connor, R-Olathe, Rep. Brenda Landwehr, R-Wichita and State Rep. Mary Pilcher-Cook, R-Shawnee, according to the Journal-World.
Kansascity.com reported on Dec. 1 that KU was withdrawing the controversial course. The university said they cancelled it after Mirecki asked them to.
So far the story is your average story of someone taking a stand and then backing down after the controversy, but then things took a strange turn.
On Monday, Dec. 5, Mirecki reported that he had been attacked by two men on his way into town for breakfast. The account in the Journal-World went like this:
Kansas University religious studies professor Paul Mirecki reported he was beaten by two men about 6:40 a.m. today on a roadside in rural Douglas County. In a series of interviews late this afternoon, Mirecki said the men who beat him were making references to the controversy that has propelled him into the headlines in recent weeks.
“I didn’t know them, but I’m sure they knew me,” he said.
Mirecki said he was driving to breakfast when he noticed the men tailgating him in a pickup truck.
“I just pulled over hoping they would pass, and then they pulled up real close behind,” he said. “They got out, and I made the mistake of getting out.”
He said the men beat him about the upper body with their fists, and he said he thinks they struck him with a metal object. He was treated and released at Lawrence Memorial Hospital.
The Journal-World also wrote that the matter was under investigation by police and that they were looking for suspects “described as two white males between ages 30 and 40, one wearing a red visor and wool gloves, and both wearing jeans. They were last seen in a large pickup truck.”
A later article by the Journal-World said that “key facts” including “where it happened” were unclear and that there was “conflicting information about whether Mirecki reported it at the scene or at the hospital.” This information led some people, including Altevogt to question the truthfulness of Mirecki’s account.
Mirecki stopped speaking to the media about the beating and the Douglas County Sheriff’s Office is still investigating.
Julia A. Seymour is a staff writer for Accuracy in Academia.