Proselytizing 101

Broward Community College is a public school, but its religion professors consider it a private reserve

"He's using Christianity as a measuring stick," Johnson says. "Allison is out of line. That is absolutely out of place. If I were to put on my syllabus that I'm there to assist students in their religious quest, that's absolutely out of line. My job as an instructor is not to lead a student to this or that religion but simply to show them the history of the religions and what they believe."

Johnson sighs, noticeably infuriated by the topic.

"I can assure you that this man is not giving just an objective view of these religions," he says.

Colby Katz
James W. Johnson, a former adjunct religion professor at BCC, alleges that the public college pushes an Evangelical agenda in the classroom.
Colby Katz
James W. Johnson, a former adjunct religion professor at BCC, alleges that the public college pushes an Evangelical agenda in the classroom.


Robert Montreuil thinks Johnson is a hypocrite. A slender, 44-year-old white man with a brown beard that moves up his cheeks and to the sides of his bald pate, Montreuil is both a student and a teacher at BCC. When not in class as a student, he works in the computer lab at BCC's central campus and teaches one course in personal computer support.

About two and half years ago, Montreuil signed up for one of Johnson's courses in World Religions. "I just had a great interest in the subject — and I saw it as a fun class and a grade booster," Montreuil says, sitting in one of the college's computer labs. "But this class turned out to be the worst class I have ever had, bar none, particularly because of this professor."

Montreuil, who describes himself as a Protestant but is hesitant to use the word fundamentalist, claims that Johnson was particularly hostile toward roughly five of 20 students who were openly Christian. Montreuil, who claims to have a learning disability, says Johnson's hostility may have stemmed from his request to videotape the class. Johnson refused, allowing him only to audiotape each lecture.

"From the beginning, Johnson said: 'Leave your religious views at the door,'" Montreuil remembers. "I thought that was a good and reasonable request. But he wouldn't follow his own rule... For the longest time, we thought he was a Buddhist. We couldn't imagine he was coming from a Christian worldview."

During one lecture, a heated discussion started about Christian fundamentalism. In trying to understand other religions, Montreuil says, some students would use Christianity as a comparison. That apparently annoyed Johnson.

"Whenever people tried to express their point of view, to use Christianity to put other religions in context, Johnson responded harshly," Montreuil says. "During several occasions, he became angry and belligerent."

Following one of these heated exchanges, Johnson walked up to the blackboard. "Fundamentalism = Religion," Johnson wrote. He then put a slash through the equals sign.

"He said fundamentalism is not religion," Montreuil says. "It seemed that from the beginning, he wanted us to believe that orthodox Christianity, or fundamentalism, as a religion is not legitimate."

Johnson does not refute the claim. "I see fundamentalism as a huge problem, and I make no bones about it," he says. "It has created a problem for the way religion is perceived by many people in society, because people think religion means narrow-mindedness. Religion and fundamentalism are not the same thing."

On exams, Montreuil claims that Johnson consistently marked down his essay answers by 50 percent. "He resented me because he thought I was a conservative Christian," Montreuil says.

Infuriated, Montreuil filed a formal grade appeal with Thompson. Although Thompson informed him that he could not file an appeal until a final grade had been issued, Montreuil left feeling confident about how the administration viewed his instructor.

"When I spoke to Dr. Thompson — and this is just my impression — there was an awareness that this person was a problem, but they needed a solid reason to let him go," Montreuil says.

In the end, Johnson gave Montreuil a good grade. "He gave me an A to try to shut me up, but that's the grade I earned," Montreuil says.

Although Johnson dismisses the student as a religious zealot and a troublemaker — "He challenged every second sentence that came out of my mouth," Johnson says — Montreuil isn't the only pupil who has had trouble with Johnson. In fact, on RateMyProfessors.com, a website that allows students to comment on and rate their college instructors anonymously, Johnson has an overall rating of 1.8 out of 5. The comments, all negative, describe him as boring, disrespectful, and illogical. By comparison, the professors that Johnson claims promote a religious agenda have received higher ratings.

One BCC student who would agree with Johnson's low rating is Lauren Le Roy, a Hollywood woman who was a student in the New Testament course that Johnson took over from Balzora.

"I am a Christian, but I'm not a conservative, fundamentalist Christian," Le Roy explains. But the student admits that she could see how Johnson might have viewed Balzora's lecture as pro-Christian.

"The way Mr. Balzora taught, he taught in a way it could seem that they're promoting Christianity," she says. "But this was the second religion course I'd taken at BCC. I was used to the way they taught religion. Balzora approached the Bible in class as if it's kind of true. It wasn't the Bible as literature."

Like Montreuil, Le Roy clashed with Johnson. She didn't like his Catholic spin on religion, she says, and he would often promote his own agenda in class. Among the claims Johnson made was that evidence existed that God condones homosexuality.

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