Religious Freedom in America – Fact or Fiction?

Dr. Jerry Bergman

The following article was written by Nancy Chappell Tucker and submitted to Liberty Magazine. The editor returned it with the following note: “Forgive us for taking so long to respond to your manuscript. It was the best of several we received on the subject of Dr. Bergman. However, one of our own staff has offered to research and write an article on the subject for us so we are returning your manuscript to you. Please keep LIBERTY in mind in the future as you continue to write.” Loleta S. Thomas, Editorial Associate. The article is as follows:

Religious Freedom in America–Fact or Fiction?

Nancy Chappell Tucker

Dr. Gerald R. Bergman comes home now to an empty house, a house once filled with the warmth and camaraderie of his family. His wife and children live elsewhere now. His station wagon is several years old and needs repairs—especially now that he must drive several hundred miles a week to three colleges in three separate cities to teach six classes. Seven years ago he was a professor on the tenure track at the university in the town where he still lives. He then drove his new car two miles to work.

Jerry Bergman was hired as an associate professor in the Department of Education at Bowling Green State University, Bowling Green, OH, in the fall of 1973. He was on a tenure track, which meant that after seven years, he would be granted tenure if he met the requirements of the university and the department. The university’s charter included the requirements of service, publications, and teaching.

What was Gerald R. Bergman like as a professor? Six years after his hiring and his teaching began, Dr. Richard Burke (a colleague) said in a letter, “The Faculty Evaluation Committee wishes to congratulate you for your outstanding professional performance.” The Associate Dean of his college said he was one of the most talented and creative professors and had an insatiable thirst for knowledge. Other remarks profiled him as being exceptionally competent, tireless, persistent, and one of the most prolific faculty authors at BGSU.

It would seem that Jerry was secure in his position, and yet, in 1979, he was denied tenure on a 2/3 secret ballot vote. Why? Nine signed, notarized affidavits by colleagues of Jerry’s at BGSU openly attest to the fact that religion was the issue in his being fired. What was the proof?

Gossip, innuendo, rumor repeatedly said that Jerry was teaching religion in the classroom—proselytizing! Statements by his colleagues found the following: “Jerry had belonged to a group of religious fanatics: that Jerry himself was a religious fanatic, and [he] thought that was one of the things [he] had against him.” Another colleague: “I asked about his thoughts on Jerry’s religion. He felt Jerry belonged to a crazy religious group and that he did teach religion in the classroom.” Dr. Bennett said: “I heard some things that made me very uncomfortable [such as the allegations of the religious nature of his curriculum] … and Jerry’s discussing religion ‘were part of my concern and part of my decision-making [relative to tenure].”

Dr. Wallace DePue rather wrapped up the bigotry of Jerry’s colleagues by stating: “The critics of Dr. Bergman were blatant in admitting that his termination had little to do with his professional competence but that he was dismissed because of religious beliefs!” Since religion seemed to be such a major bone of contention, what did his educated colleagues know of his ‘crazy religion?’ Dr. Burke said, “it was difficult to know what religion he was; that people had heard so many different things about what religion he was, or claimed to be.”

By their own statements they admitted they did not understand what his religion actually was—nor did they have any wish to. They huddled together in the safety of their collective fear and ignorance. They not only did not know what religion they were afraid of, but most of the objections to his religious orientation were vague, secondhand gossip, and innuendo.

Were there other factors that cost him his tenure? His health? His family? His job? Dr. Trevor Phillips said: “There was a sort of a small conspiracy to get rid of him … because he was different … He dressed differently, he was a researcher, he was more published than most of us … He’s probably better off not being with us, because there would be hostility which is probably more jealousy than anything else.”

Jerry had been accused of wearing white socks, of dressing oddly, he was “seen leaning [his] feet on [his] desk” along with the “fear of his teaching religion in the classroom.” Even if his colleagues didn’t personally like him and wanted him out—how could they legally find a way to get rid of him despite the illegality of their reasons?

Remember, the university charter stated that “tenure is to be granted or denied only on the basis of teaching effectiveness, scholarly or creative work, service to the university … [and that] Departments or colleagues … may not add other criteria.” Dress, appearance and religious orientation would, therefore, have to fall under ‘other criterion’, which would definitely be against the university charter, and a violation of the Constitution.

Yes, there was a way to get rid of him. The university claims they can terminate one’s employment for a person’s tenure on the basis of a secret 2/3 ballot. And they claim it is ‘academic freedom’ not to reveal how they voted. Thus, the reasons for voting as they did cannot be explored. Illegal discrimination (such as sex, race, and religion) can be effectively and safely cloaked in this way.

And so, despite denying Jerry his Constitutional rights, they ‘legally’ denied him tenure. But why? Why the statement … “there was no way Jerry was going to win if he met every criteria in the book.” There must be some relevant, educated reason? Perhaps his service record? He founded Friends of the Library. He was active in many committees at BGSU. Professor Trevor Phillips admitted that his performance was “not the issue.” Perhaps his teaching was inadequate? He consistently ranked in the 80th and 90th percentile in his teaching evaluations.

Then it must be the last criteria of the charter, his publishing record? At that time Jerry had over 200 publications: articles, books, chapters, and monographs. The average professor publishes five articles in his/her lifetime. In four years Jerry had produced over 40 times what the ‘average’ professor produces in a lifetime. Dr. Darrell Fyffe, who was on the Faculty Evaluation Council said, “Few faculty members of my knowledge, and I have seen about 75 full vita’s, had a record of performance which matches Gerald Bergman’s … I can find no explanation for refusal of tenure.”

And so we have a professor that more than amply meets the university’s charter’s criterion on every point and yet because of their suspicions of some crazy religion, they wanted him out. One professor even told another colleague, Dr. Gusweiler, that “Jerry should be thrown out of the university because of his religion.” He was “very adamant that Jerry should be thrown out.”

There was some “proof,” however. There were handouts, or rather one handout, which quoted two Biblical scriptures. Except that, aside from making reference to Christianity, the handout also made reference to atheism and agnosticism.

There was another “incident.” Jerry used a book on the Scopes Trial published by a university press as optional reading for one of his educational psychology classes! The professor that objected to this book didn’t feel it should be used in a state university. Dr. Bergman said the book was not required reading but rather a series of books selected for optional readings. Dr. Burke, who had become a strong opponent of Dr. Bergman’s, admitted that he did not recall what Jerry was attempting to accomplish by using the book, whether it was required, extra reading, or even which course it was for—but he objected to its use!

Another incident was a monograph for Phi Delta Kappa titled “Teaching about the Creation/Evolution Controversy.” This was possibly the most damning to Jerry. His course content, and his writing so far have been found objectionable by his colleagues. What about his teaching? What does Dr. Burke have to say about this? Dr. Burke admitted that “he had never observed his teaching … I wouldn’t say I observed his classes. I observed his classes walking past his classes.” Dr. Phillips said, “I personally didn’t see him teach … if some of the things that I heard were valid, then I was a little bit uneasy about those things.” Again, rumor and second hand information. Did anyone observe him? Dr. Darryl Fyffe gave glowing recommendations of his teaching performance saying he had a good voice, facial control, good use of chalkboard. “This class was probably the best single presentation of sociograms that I have ever seen.”

Then possibly there were complaints from the students? The professors said there were, or thought there were. The department chair, in response to the rumored student complaints, said he asked that complaints be directed to him. No one did. The Associate Dean said there was no record of student complaints in Jerry’s files. The Acting Dean of the Graduate School said his office had received no student complaints about Bergman. Dr. Peter Wood said, “Jerry’s students generally reported that his classes were very interesting and conductive to learning.” And so despite all the better characteristics one would hope to find in a college professor, he was “terminated.”

What recourse did Bergman have? He appealed to the President of the university. The President stated that Bergman’s tenure had nothing to do with academic qualifications! It seems this seemingly careless attitude meant that the president of the university advocated fully qualified professors being let go at the whim of department members. Dr. Bergman appealed to the Provost. The university charter on page 55 states that “Final responsibility for recommending tenure lies with the Provost.” But although the Provost had the right to grant tenure despite a 2/3 negative ballot, he refused to do so. Faculty pressure and politics, it seems, had pressured the Provost into basically rubber-stamping the department’s negative vote.

What other avenues of appeal were open? The Ohio Civil Rights Commission said that the “reason your contract was made terminal was because two-thirds of the faculty did not vote for you.” Jerry already knew this: it didn’t take a commission to tell him that. What he wanted was for the commission to prove or determine the reason. The OCRC was not interested in the reason. The ACLU consistently refused help, even stating that “fundamentalist Christians do not belong in state universities,” although the ACLU Handbook says that a teacher may not be “dismissed because he has exercised the right protected by the Constitution, one of which is freedom of religion.” The AAUP informed Dr. Bergman that the university must state that religion was the reason he was fired before they intervene! Even the EEOC turned the other way.

Michigan State Senator Alan Cropsey said “I find he [Bergman] applied for help to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission in 1979, only to have his records lost, or dismissed, or put on hold, or whatever.” The concept of religious freedom is not to be abused in America. It was one of the founding factors in the development of our country. In fact, religious freedom has gone so far that the absence of religion is a right in itself and is just as important as religion.

Surveys show around 700 cases of religious discrimination are filed each year. “The tragedy is, though,” wrote attorney Allen Cropsey, “that there has never been a single case of religious discrimination in employment won in this country.” And so, universities are able to eliminate those who have viewpoints contrary to the majority. A recent Gallup Poll found that only 4% of all professors in state universities accepted even the most fundamental beliefs of Christianity. Next October (1984) a Federal Court will once more be faced with a religious discrimination case—this time Bergman vs. BGSU.


Tucker, Nancy Chappell. 1984? “Religious Freedom in America—Fact or Fiction?” (Returned Manuscript along with a letter from Loleta S. Thomas, Editorial Associate, Liberty, dated March 30, 1984).

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