Dr. Johnson Varkey, a veteran biology professor at St. Philip’s College in San Antonio, Texas, was dismissed from his position after a lecture on the human reproductive system led to controversy and student walkouts. Varkey, who has been teaching for over 20 years, was discussing the biological fact that sex is determined by X and Y chromosomes, a topic he has covered throughout his career without previous complaints.
On November 28, 2022, four students left the lecture, later accusing Varkey of “religious preaching,” making “discriminatory comments about homosexuals and transgender individuals,” promoting “anti-abortion rhetoric,” and engaging in “misogynistic banter.” The college administration responded by terminating Varkey’s employment in January 2023, citing these complaints as the reason.
The First Liberty Institute, a legal group representing Varkey, has since sent a letter to St. Philip’s College demanding his reinstatement. The letter argues that Varkey’s statements are not only supported by his extensive education and experience but also reflect his sincerely held religious beliefs. However, it emphasizes that Varkey, a devout Christian and associate pastor at a local church, never expressed his personal views on human gender or sexuality in the classroom.
“The 23rd pair is that determines the sex of a person. So if that 23rd pair of chromosomes are X and X, it is a female and if it’s X and Y, it’s a male,” Varkey explained. “And I mentioned in the class that that’s what makes male and female.”
Varkey’s legal team explained that his extensive study of human biology has consistently shown that life begins at conception. In the letter they write:
Specifically, during classroom lectures on human reproduction, he would explain that when a sperm (which has 23 chromosomes) joins with an egg (which also has 23 chromosomes), a zygote (which has 46 chromosomes) is formed, and it begins to divide, and after 38 weeks a baby is born. Because no information is added or deleted in those 38 weeks, life starts when the zygote begins to divide, not when the baby is born.
When teaching the human reproductive system, Dr. Varkey also stated that human sex is determined by chromosomes X and Y, and that reproduction must occur between a male and a female to continue the human species. In the course of teaching Human Anatomy and Physiology, he made these statements in every class for 20 years, without any incident or complaint.
Varkey and his team claims his termination was not for cause but violated federal and state law, including the First Amendment of the United States Constitution, the Texas Religious Freedom Restoration Act, and Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. It states that Dr. Varkey’s statements are supported by his extensive education and experience and reflect his sincerely held religious beliefs. Varkey’s representation emphasized that he never discussed his personal views on human gender or sexuality with any student.
It also includes a legal analysis, arguing that St. Philip’s College violated Dr. Varkey’s rights to free speech and free exercise of religion, as well as his rights under Title VII and the Texas Religious Freedom Restoration Act.
The letter concludes by requesting that St. Philip’s College reinstate Dr. Varkey to his position as Adjunct Professor and acknowledge that his termination violated federal and state law. It sets a deadline of July 5, 2023, for the college to provide written assurances of Dr. Varkey’s reinstatement and a written acknowledgment that his termination was not for cause. If these assurances are not provided by the deadline, the letter warns that legal action may be pursued.