The Ohio Supreme Court agreed this week to hear the case of a teacher who was fired for allegedly injecting religion into the classroom.
John Freshwater was officially dismissed from Mount Vernon Middle School in January 2011 and the termination by the district board was upheld by a local judge in October. The Rutherford Institute appealed the case to the state high court, arguing that teachers' rights of free speech and free exercise are threatened.
"This Court must intervene if students and teachers in America's public schools are to remain free to engage in open, respectful dialogue about competing academic theories and their respective merits," the institute stated in its appeal.
Freshwater served as an eighth grade science teacher for over 20 years. He came under scrutiny following a 2008 incident when a science experiment with a Tesla coil allegedly produced a cross-shaped mark on a student's arm.
He was suspended for the incident and later terminated in January 2011 for failing to adhere to established curriculum. The district board based their conclusion on the facts that: he allowed students to examine evidence both for and against evolution (with some evidence against evolution being based upon the principles of Creationism and Intelligent Design); and developed a method of allowing students to point out passages in printed materials that could be questioned or debated.
"As an eighth-grade science teacher, Freshwater sought to encourage his students to differentiate between facts and theories, and to identify and discuss instances where textbook statements were subject to intellectual and scientific debate. Any reasonable person in a free society would identify this methodology, particularly in the context of a science classroom, as good teaching practice," the appeal states.
"Academic freedom was once the bedrock of American education. That is no longer the state of affairs, as this case makes clear," stated John W. Whitehead, president of The Rutherford Institute. "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."
The board also made its decision based on the allegation that he told students that the Bible states homosexuality is a sin.
Freshwater has denied making the statement on homosexuality. There was supposedly only one witness and that witness was not present in class on the day in question, according to the appeal.
The long-time science teacher was also let go for failing to remove religious materials, including his Bible, from his classroom. Freshwater told The Christian Post last year that he had the Bible on his desk throughout the 24 years he had been teaching.