The decision of an Ohio middle school to fire a popular, Christian science teacher of over 20 years has generated media attention and concerns that the decision could have been motivated out of religious bias against Christians.
In its decision, the Mount Vernon School district voted unanimously Friday to sack the veteran teacher, John Freshwater, because of reports that Freshwater had preached his Christian beliefs and had burned the image of a cross on the arms of students.
Freshwater, however, has denied any wrongdoing, and his spokesman, David Daubenmire, said that the charges were all motivated out of bias and prejudice.
Daubenmire traced the charges to an incident back in April when Freshwater clashed with school officials over the right to keep a Bible on display at his desk.
Freshwater told school officials then that throughout his entire career he had never once tried to preach or teach from the Bible while in the classroom.
"The removal of [the Bible] will be nothing short of the infringement on my deeply held religious beliefs," he said in a statement in April.
Since the incident in April, the school board had looked for ways to fire Freshwater, Daubenmire claimed.
"It was not until April, when John Freshwater refused to remove his Bible, that the school board rapidly made the decision to accuse him of things and then go back and find evidence," he told ABC News.
Responding to claims about "crosses" being burned onto the arms of students, Daubenmire said that it was part of an experiment in which Freshwater drew X marks to help demonstrate electrical current. The experiment was harmless, Daubenmire explained, and had been part of Freshwater's curriculum for over 20 years.
"The science experiment [the alleged burning of the student] took place in December, and the parents did not go to the police and didn't file a criminal complaint," he said.
Freshwater, who has had a long teaching career spanning over two decades, was described as a popular and favorite teacher by Mount Vernon students who were interviewed, according to The Associated Press.
The science teacher has indicated that he intends to challenge his dismissal from the school in a hearing next month, according to his attorney.