Secular and science groups have urged the Ohio Supreme Court to rule against John Freshwater, an eighth-grade science teacher who was fired for teaching creationism instead of evolution in class.
“Freshwater’s pedagogy serves no legitimate educational purpose in a public school science class, is scientifically unsound, and serves only impermissibly to advance a sectarian purpose, namely, to teach creationism in its tradition version of ‘creation science’ or its modern incarnation of intelligent design,” National Center for Science Education told the court last week.
Freshwater decorated his classroom at the Mount Vernon middle school in Ohio with Biblical verses and taught his students “competing theories” about evolution. He repeatedly attacked the theory of evolution, encouraged his students to question their scientific textbook, and gave extra credit to students who saw a creationist film. Freshwater was also sued in 2008 for allegedly burning a Christian cross into student’s arm using a high-voltage Tesla coil.
The Board of Education voted to consider firing Freshwater later that year for failing to adhere to the school’s curriculum and injecting his personal religious beliefs into his teaching plan. Freshman sued the school board members, the superintendent, the middle school principal and others in 2009, alleging that his First Amendment rights had been violated. . Freshwater is seeking $1 million in damages and to have his job reinstated.
After the Knox County Court of Common Pleas and Fifth District Court of Appeals upheld the Board’s decision, Freshwater appealed the case to the Ohio Supreme Court.
“Simply put, public-school teachers do not have a constitutional right to impose their faith on their students. There can be no doubt that Freshwater was doing exactly that: He now frankly admits what everyone in the community knew all along-namely, that he was intentionally teaching creationism and otherwise incorporating his religious views into his classes,” Americans United for Separation of Church and State told the Ohio Supreme Court.
“The School District had both the lawful authority and the constitutional obligation to curtail his actions; and in the face of his recalcitrance, terminating his employment was, as the referee found, more than justified.”
Stephen and Jenifer Dennis, whose son was allegedly branded by Freshwater, also urged the court to uphold the Board’s decision. The family sued Freshwater in 2008 and later settled the case for $450,000 plus attorney fees.
“A governmental employee retains all of his First Amendment rights in his private life but must surrender some of them when he is on the job because in that role he speaks for the state as its representative,” the American Humanist Association and the Secular Student Alliance added, citing prior court rulings.
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