A 20-year Ohio middle school science teacher who was fired in 2011 for teaching creationism in his class will have his day in the Ohio Supreme Court on Wednesday when his lawyers will argue that his firing was a violation of his First and Fourteenth Amendment rights to free speech and religion.
"In oral arguments before the Ohio Supreme Court tomorrow, February 27, The Rutherford Institute will defend the right to academic freedom of a science teacher fired for encouraging students to think critically about the school's science curriculum, particularly as it relates to evolution theories," said the Rutherford Institute in a statement released in response to questions from The Christian Post on Tuesday.
"In coming to veteran science teacher John Freshwater's defense, Institute attorneys argue that the Mount Vernon City School District violated John Freshwater's academic freedom rights – and those of his students – by firing him in January 2011," said the statement.
The Mount Vernon School Board had spent almost $1 million fighting John Freshwater's case when they decided to end his contract, according to a report in the Mount Vernon News. Board president Margie Bennett told the Mount Vernon News at the time that Freshwater's fired was a difficult decision. "It was not an easy decision. We don't believe there are any winners or losers in this situation. It is a very difficult situation for everyone. We are glad it has been resolved. Hopefully we can put this behind us, the community can begin to come together again and relationships can heal and we can move forward."
Freshwater, however, appealed his termination in state court arguing that the firing violated his rights under the First and Fourteenth Amendments and constituted hostility toward religion. The Board's decision was upheld by a Common Pleas judge as well as the Fifth District Court of Appeals. But according to the Rutherford Institute, these decisions were made without an analysis of the constitutional claims. The appeal was made to the Ohio Supreme Court to examine theme. According to the Institute, the Mount Vernon School Board attempted to have the court strike the First Amendment claim from the lawsuit but they were unsuccessful.
"Academic freedom was once the bedrock of American education. That is no longer the state of affairs, as this case makes clear," said John W. Whitehead, president of The Rutherford Institute, in the release. "What we need today are more teachers and school administrators who understand that young people don't need to be indoctrinated. Rather, they need to be taught how to think for themselves. By firing John Freshwater for challenging his students to think outside the box, school officials violated a core First Amendment freedom – the right to debate and express ideas contrary to established views."
In June 2008, the Mount Vernon City School District Board of Education in Ohio voted to suspend John Freshwater citing concerns about his conduct and teaching materials, particularly as they related to the teaching of evolution. Freshwater, who had served as the faculty appointed facilitator, monitor, and supervisor of the Fellowship of Christian Athletes student group for 16 of the 20 years that he taught at the school, was ordered to remove "all religious items" from his classroom. Freshwater agreed to remove the items except for his Bible, which spurred a sequence of events that led to his eventual firing.
Freshwater has been unemployed since the event and states on his LinkedIn profile that: "Currently I am a[n] unemployed Teacher looking for a Teaching position in Secondary Science along with coaching of football and wrestling."
The Rutherford Institute is a nonprofit civil liberties organization that provides legal assistance at no charge to individuals whose constitutional rights have been threatened or violated.