Dr. Johnson Varkey, a biology professor from Texas, has accused St. Philip’s College in San Antonio of firing him earlier this year for teaching factual information about human development that some students found offensive. Varkey had been an adjunct professor at the college for 20 years and had consistently received positive performance reviews until his termination in January.
According to Varkey’s lawyers at the First Liberty Institute, the public community college accused him of an ethics violation based on complaints it received about religious preaching, discriminatory comments about LGBTQ+ individuals, anti-abortion rhetoric, and misogynistic talk in his classes. However, Varkey’s lawyers maintain that he never shared his personal views with students and taught human biology in his fall 2022 classes just as he had throughout his entire career.
In a letter sent to the college in June, Varkey’s lawyers claimed that the school violated the professor’s rights to free speech and religious freedom. They threatened legal action unless the college reinstated Varkey. The lawyers cited an incident in November where four students walked out of Varkey’s class after he stated, based on his study of human biology and religious beliefs, that sex was determined by chromosomes X and Y. They presume that these students were the source of the complaints.
Throughout his teaching career, Varkey taught his students that human life begins at conception. He explained the process of human reproduction, including the formation of a zygote when a sperm joins with an egg. Varkey emphasized that life begins when the zygote starts to divide and not when the baby is born. These teachings are in line with his extensive study of human biology.
Varkey, who is also a pastor and Christian radio host, has remained active in ministry in San Antonio. He and his wife serve as associate pastors at the International Bible Church, and Varkey hosts the Christian radio program Rehoboth Voice. Despite his involvement in Christian ministry, Varkey’s lawyers assert that he never introduced his personal beliefs into his classrooms until late last year, when the college terminated his employment.
First Liberty Institute’s counsel, Keisha Russell, criticized the college’s decision to fire Varkey, describing it as preposterous and in violation of his constitutional and statutory rights. Russell argued that Varkey had always taught widely accepted, fact-based science and accused the college of no longer supporting professors who teach these ideas. The lawyers are demanding Varkey’s immediate reinstatement.