The Texas Freedom Network has been stepping up efforts to protect the right
of families to direct the religious education of their own children as the
religious right’s assault on that freedom moves into high gear. The latest
example of the right’s increasingly aggressive campaign: an Ohio teacher has
filed a lawsuit claiming that public school officials have violated his
constitutional and civil rights by trying to stop him from promoting his
religious beliefs in the classroom.
"The board announced last June that it intended to fire Freshwater for
preaching his Christian beliefs about how the world began, discrediting
evolution and deviating from the required science curriculum. An investigation
initiated by the board found that Freshwater used a high-voltage lab tool to
burn crosses into the arms of students and that he told them gays were
"The board suspended him without pay. A state administrative hearing on the
board’s plan to fire Freshwater has been conducted on and off since October.
"The controversy became public after he refused to remove a Bible from his
"The lawsuit denies charges that Freshwater violated district policy or taught
creationism or intelligent design in his classroom and maintains that other
teachers in the district have been permitted to keep Bibles on their desks.
Far-right pressure groups have tried to focus the Ohio issue on whether
teachers may keep Bibles on their desks. They want the case to appear as one of
religious discrimination against the teacher. Of course, the record shows that
far more was involved there.
The Texas Freedom Network believes that the rights of teachers and students
don’t stop at the schoolhouse door. Everyone who works in or attends public
schools have the right to practice their faith as they see fit. But public
school teachers, who act essentially as agents of government, have no business
promoting their religious beliefs in the classroom. Doing so interferes with the
right of parents to direct the religious education of their own children.
The Texas Freedom Network has strongly opposed efforts to undermine the
religious freedom of students and their families. That’s why, for example, we
opposed the absurdly named “Religious Viewpoints Nondiscrimination Act” the Texas
Legislature passed in 2007. That law requires public schools to turn students assemblies into opportunities for other students to
pray and evangelize before a captive audience.
That same year, TFN pushed — successfully — for key safeguards for religious
freedom in legislation regarding public school Bible classes. Such
courses are legal provided that they are truly academic studies of the Bible’s
influence in history and literature. But TFN Education Fund reports found that such courses are often more
about promoting the religious beliefs of those teaching the
classes (sometimes even ministers from the local community). So TFN worked
with lawmakers to require safeguards such as proper teacher training and
specific curriculum standards for classes about the Bible.
The Texas State Board of Education, however, refused to support those safeguards. And, of course, state
board members demanded that creationist arguments against evolution be included
in public school science curriculum standards. Clearly, we have much work to