An Ohio school board's decision to fire a middle school teacher under the allegations of teaching creationism and religious doctrine in his classroom was upheld by a local judge Wednesday. The science teacher, who was dismissed in January, plans to file an appeal.
John Freshwater sought to overturn the Mount Vernon City School District Board firing in order to get his job back. The decision to uphold the school board’s action was handed down by Knox County Common Pleas Court Judge Otho Eyster.
Freshwater was suspended under allegations that he failed to remove religious materials from his classroom and burned crosses on students' arms with a Tesla coil during science experiments. The suspension from Mount Vernon Middle School occurred in 2008 and he was terminated in January 2011.
The case against him began as a request by the school administration to remove his Bible from his classroom desk and was compounded with other accusations after his refusal to do so, Freshwater told The Christian Post. Having an exemplary teaching record for 24 years, he said the allegations began when there were several changes in the school district’s personnel, including three new school board members.
“It came down to that they wanted me to remove the Bible from my desk and I refused to remove my Bible from my desk,” Freshwater said. “The Bible has been resting on my desk for all 24 years of teaching. So, what has changed? What has changed is the administration.”
School officials also did not like the way he taught the evolution curriculum, Freshwater said.
“The school board justified its actions by accusing Freshwater of improperly injecting religion into the classroom by giving students ‘reason to doubt the accuracy and/or veracity of scientists, science textbooks and/or science in general,’” according to his lawyers from the Rutherford Institute.
“He never had a negative performance evaluation in 20-plus years. He is a good teacher,” Rutherford Institute president John W. Whitehead told CP. “The real issue here is that he has obligedly challenged a sacred object in public education, which is the theory of evolution.”
“People forget it is a theory. So, our argument is that he should have the academic freedom to do that. If schools just want an official version, they should just show a video or get a robot to do it. It would be easier,” Whitehead said.
Although it is reported that school officials have not completely absolved Freshwater of the Tesla coil incident, a hearing officer had previously found that it was not a factor in the firing, "because Freshwater stopped using it after he was told to do so."
“I have been completely cleared of that but they continue to bring that up. That should have never been brought to the case,” Freshwater said. “The media reports keep bringing it up. I guess it sells papers.”
Freshwater’s suit, filed in February, stated that state law and school procedures protecting his rights were violated, according to an article by The Columbus Dispatch. He also said that the hearing referee's conclusions were flawed.
Eyster reviewed 6,344 pages of hearing transcript involving 80 witnesses during 38 days of hearings, the Dispatch reported. The judge ruled “Freshwater’s request that the court conduct additional hearings is not well taken.”
Freshwater said the judge's decision on Wednesday was unfair.
“The school board stacked the deck in their favor and Eyster just rolled along with it,” he said. “They didn’t even give my constitutional right to rebut what Eyster had brought forward.”
In regard to accusations of teaching Creationism, Freshwater said that he does not teach that life began because of a Creator, but instead challenges students to think for themselves on the subject.
“I teach all the aspects of evolution … those things that support evolution, those things that do not support evolution. I teach a robust evolution. The students have a right to see it,” he said. “Students need to hear the evidence and maybe some of the evidence is not for evolution, but they need to hear the evidence. Did I stand up and preach and share Creationism with them? No. I just shared the evidence of evolution and that shows the flaw of evolution enough.”
School officials were not available for comment at the time of this report.