Ohio court spars with lawyers in school Bible case

Judges and lawyers debate if a public school science teacher had the right to push his religious beliefs in class

Topics: ,

Ohio court spars with lawyers in school Bible caseFILE - In this April 16, 2008 file photo, John Freshwater, center, addresses a crowd on Mount Vernon's public square in Mount Vernon, Ohio. The Ohio Supreme Court is ready to hear arguments in the case of Freshwater, a fired public school science teacher who kept a bible on his desk and was accused of preaching religious beliefs in class. (AP Photo/Mount Vernon News, Pam Schehl, File) (Credit: AP)

COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) — In a heated hour of arguments, Ohio Supreme Court justices sparred with lawyers Wednesday over the extent to which a now-fired public school science teacher had the right to push his personal religious beliefs in class.

A lawyer for the school board that dismissed John Freshwater in 2011 said he waved a Bible at his students, handed out religious pamphlets and espoused creationism in his evolution lessons.

Freshwater violated the constitutional separation between church and state and was rightfully fired, said David Smith, an attorney for the Mount Vernon School Board.

“You can’t teach evolution from a Christian perspective” without violating constitutional protections against government establishment of religion, he said.

Freshwater’s attorney, Rita Dunaway, said accounts of Freshwater’s class conduct were exaggerated and that the instructor was exercising his academic freedom to explore controversial ideas.

“A Bible on a desk hidden amongst other clutter does not a religious display make,” she said.

Dunaway said Freshwater had a laudable teaching record and his students scored well on standardized science tests.

Freshwater was dismissed in 2011 after investigators reported he preached Christian beliefs in class when discussing topics such as evolution and homosexuality and was insubordinate in failing to remove the Bible from his classroom.

You Might Also Like

Justices appeared perplexed, at times irritated, about what lawyers believed was the legal issue before them.

Justice Paul Pfeifer was incredulous when Smith argued that Freshwater’s evolution class wouldn’t have been covered under the school district’s controversial-issues policy.

“So there’s nothing controversial about evolution. It is a theory, isn’t it?” he said.

Freshwater also had been accused of using a science tool to burn students’ arms with the image of a cross, but that allegation was resolved and was not a factor in his firing.

Justices wanted to know Wednesday whether that incident played a role in Freshwater’s dismissal. Smith speculated that attention surrounding that incident was what prompted the school board’s investigation into Freshwater’s 21-year career.

In its review, the board concluded Freshwater had used a high-frequency generator, which other teachers have used to demonstrate electrical current, to burn a cross onto a student’s arm. The cross lasted a few weeks.

The student’s family settled a federal lawsuit against the district in an effort to move on.

In his dismissal case, Freshwater is getting legal backing from the Charlottesville, Va.-based Rutherford Institute, a civil liberties group. Science education and humanist and secular groups have joined the side of the school board.

The school board argues that as far back as 1994, a middle school principal told Freshwater to stop distributing an “Answers in Genesis” pamphlet, which contained information about a creationist organization’s seminar, according to a filing by board attorneys asking the court to uphold Freshwater’s firing.

Freshwater also used a handout titled “Survival of the Fakest” to teach his students to doubt science, the board’s attorneys said.

Two lower courts previously upheld Freshwater’s dismissal.

At the back of the courtroom Wednesday, 17-year-old Esther Sorg and 18 other students from Wilmington Christian Academy about an hour southwest of Columbus were listening in as part of a school field trip.

Sorg said her science classes include evolution, and it seems public school classes could include the creationist perspective without harm.

“My eighth-grade science class was taught from a Christian perspective, but we discussed evolution as well,” she said. “I thought that was good because I wanted to know what the current theories were.”

More Related Stories

Featured Slide Shows

  • Share on Twitter
  • Share on Facebook
  • 1 of 10
  • Close
  • Fullscreen
  • Thumbnails
    Michael Ohl/Museum fur Naturkunde

    Soul-sucking 'dementor' wasps and 8 other crazy new species

    Soul-Sucking Dementor Wasp

    Latin name: Ampulex dementor

    Truong Ngyuen

    Soul-sucking 'dementor' wasps and 8 other crazy new species

    10,000th reptile species

    Latin name: Cyrtodactylus vilaphongi

    Jodi Rowley/Australian Museum

    Soul-sucking 'dementor' wasps and 8 other crazy new species

    Colour-changing thorny frogs

    Latin name: Gracixalus lumarius

    Judith L. Eger

    Soul-sucking 'dementor' wasps and 8 other crazy new species

    Long-fanged bat

    Latin name: Hypsugo dolichodon

    Neang Thy Moe/FFI

    Soul-sucking 'dementor' wasps and 8 other crazy new species

    Stealthy wolf snake

    Latin name: Lycodon zoosvictoriae

    Michael Janes

    Soul-sucking 'dementor' wasps and 8 other crazy new species

    Feathered coral

    Latin name: Ovabunda andamanensis

    Jerome Constant

    Soul-sucking 'dementor' wasps and 8 other crazy new species

    World's second-longest insect

    Phryganistria heusii yentuensis

    Nantasak Pinkaew

    Soul-sucking 'dementor' wasps and 8 other crazy new species

    Slide 8

    Latin name: Sirindhornia spp

    Tim Johnson

    Soul-sucking 'dementor' wasps and 8 other crazy new species

    Slide 9

    Tylototriton shanorum

  • Recent Slide Shows

Comments

0 Comments

Comment Preview

Your name will appear as username ( settings | log out )

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href=""> <b> <em> <strong> <i> <blockquote>