Dr. Jonathan Coffman is claiming religious discrimination was a factor when he was terminated from his position as a Director of Administration and Associate Professor at Palm Beach Atlantic University. He filed paperwork July 28 with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and the Florida Commission on Human Relations, saying that his May 11 dismissal was because of his non-religious beliefs. A significant aspect of Dr. Coffman’s claim is that he was told by his Department Administrator to not teach about human evolution in his microbiology and immunology courses. Dr. Coffman refused and thus faced retaliation.
Palm Beach Atlantic University is an interdenominational Christian university whose website says “your Christian faith will thrive.” Dr. Coffman started work at the University’s Gregory School of Pharmacy in mid-2009. “I was offered a good salary, and I never suspected I would encounter any issues with Human Evolution at the graduate level,” he said. But during his two years there he encountered a deeply-held creationist belief among the school’s leadership. Dr. Coffman recalled a time when the Dean of Academics told all of the pharmacy students during a bible study meeting that it never rained on Earth before Noah’s flood. Instead, water came up out of the ground like sprinklers.
In the Spring term of 2010, Dr. Coffman said that the Department Administrator requested that human evolution not be taught in Dr. Coffman’s courses. When he continued to teach it anyway, he said that he was moved from his executive office space and into a tiny adjunct office. Furthermore, he was excluded from participating in a university leadership counsel and denied funding to travel to an American Society of Microbiology meeting. Finally, in May of this year he was given a letter that stated his position was eliminated.
Dr. Coffman said that he believed academic freedom is supposed to be preserved in academia regardless if the school is private or not. But that didn’t seem to be the case at Palm Beach Atlantic University. “Other faculty in the sciences at PBA embrace evolution but many don’t talk about it, are scared to talk about it, or just talk about microevolution,” he said. He has a background in molecular biology and a doctorate in microbiology and immunology from the University of Tennessee, Memphis.