Ohio High Court Upholds Firing Of John Freshwater, Teacher Who Refused To Remove Religious Material From Classroom

| by

Sidestepping the issue of whether fired Ohio schoolteacher John Freshwater was allowed to teach creationism in his science class, that state’s Supreme Court today ruled that the Mount Vernon School District was within its rights when it fired him for insubordination.

The case goes back to 2008 when, despite complaints from parents, Freshwater (pictured, center) refused to stop using materials denying the theory of evolution, as well as displaying a Bible and other Christian religious material — including a picture of President George W. Bush praying — in his middle school classroom.

“The trial court properly found that the record supports, by clear and convincing evidence, Freshwater’s termination for insubordination in failing to comply with orders to remove religious materials from his classroom,” wrote Chief Justice Maureen O’Connor for the four-justice majority on the panel of seven.

O’Connor wrote that when directed by school officials to take away the religious materials, “Freshwater deliberately added to them, incorporating the Oxford Bible and Jesus of Nazareth (book) into the classroom."

The justice wrote that the teacher’s First Amendment rights did not come into play because displaying the items in a classroom was not part of Freshwater’s “exercise of his religion.” Instead, by defying his bosses’ orders, he showed “blatant insubordination.”

But she also said that, “we need not reach the constitutional issue of whether Freshwater impermissibly imposed his religious beliefs in his classroom,” effectively ducking the issue of whether teaching of creationism — the belief that humans and other species do not evolve over time, but were created as they exist today, in accordance with accounts from the Bible — is permitted by the First Amendment.

In a dissenting opinion, Justice Terrence O’Donnell vehemently objected to the court’s ruling, and commended Freshwater for his ability to “challenge students to think critically about evolutionary theory.”

The justice said that though Freshwater encouraged students to debate the issue of creationism versus evolution, he himself did not take part in such debates.

Despite the controversy he appeared to court and his frequent clashes with school administration, Freshwater was consistently rated well as a teacher and his students scored highly on standardized science tests, which require knowledge of evolutionary theory.

SOURCES: Columbus Dispatch, National Center For Science Education