University of Kansas religious studies professor Paul Mirecki told the Lawrence Journal-World that two men who beat him were making references to the class that was to be offered for the first time this coming spring. Originally called "Special Topics in Religion: Intelligent Design, Creationism and other Religious Mythologies," the course was canceled last week at Mirecki's request.
The class was added after the Kansas Board of Education decided to include more criticism of evolution in science standards for elementary and secondary students.
"I didn't know them," Mirecki said of his alleged assailants, "but I'm sure they knew me."
One recent e-mail from Mirecki to members of a student organization referred to religious conservatives as "fundies," and said a course describing intelligent design as mythology would be a "nice slap in their big fat face." Mirecki has apologized for those comments.
Lt. Kari Wempe, a spokeswoman for the Douglas County Sheriff's Department, said a deputy was dispatched to Lawrence Memorial Hospital after receiving a call around 7 a.m. regarding a battery.
She said Mirecki reported he was attacked around 6:40 a.m. in rural Douglas County south of Lawrence. Mirecki told the Journal-World he was driving to breakfast when he noticed the men tailgating him in a pickup truck.
"I just pulled over hoping they would pass, and then they pulled up real close behind," he said. "They got out, and I made the mistake of getting out."
He said the men beat him on the head, shoulders and back with their fists, and possibly a metal object.
Wempe said Mirecki drove himself to the hospital.
Mirecki told the student newspaper, The University Daily Kansan, that he spent between three and four hours at the hospital. He said his injuries included a broken tooth.
"I'm mostly shaken up, and I got some bruises and sore spots," he told the Journal-World.
Wempe said Mirecki described the suspects as two white men between 30 and 40 years of age. One of the men was described as wearing a red visor-like ball cap and wool gloves. Mirecki said the men left in a large pickup truck.
Wempe said the department will investigate "every aspect," but couldn't discuss specifics.
Andrew Stangl, president of the Society for Open Minded Atheists and Agnostics at the university, described the attack as "bizarre and terrifying." He said Mirecki, who is the group's faculty adviser, is adamant that the alleged beating is related to the recently canceled course.
"That absolutely shocked me," he said, "because people don't do that in a civilized society."
Sen. Kay O'Connor, a Mirecki critic, said there is no excuse for someone physically assaulting the professor - regardless of their politics.
"I have zero tolerance for thugs," she said. "There is never an excuse to behave in such a manner. This was just thugs. They used a flimsy excuse, if they had one, to behave as thugs. They can talk about the ID (intelligent design) course if they want to, but that's not an excuse."