Attorneys for a Mount Vernon schoolteacher who was fired for keeping a Bible on his desk plan to argue before the Ohio Supreme Court that the teacher's termination was unconstitutional.
The school board dismissed science teacher John Freshwater in 2011 after investigators reported he preached Christian beliefs in class when discussing topics such as evolution and homosexuality. They also claim the teacher was insubordinate after failing to remove the Bible from his classroom.
Two lower courts previously upheld Freshwater's dismissal, but the state Supreme Court agreed to hear a portion of the claims over his firing on Wednesday.
The court said Freshwater could argue that it is unconstitutional to fire someone without clear guidance on the appropriate teaching materials and methods. Freshwater can also argue that it was unconstitutional to fire him simply for having a religious text, such as a Bible, in the classroom.
A lawyer for the Ohio school board says the former science teacher not only had a Bible in the classroom, but also waved the Bible at his students, handed out religious pamphlets and discussed creationism in his evolution lessons.
Freshwater’s attorney, Kelly Hamilton, says these accounts are exaggerated and that he was simply exercising his academic freedom to explore controversial ideas.
“An open discussion on creationism or "intelligent design" as part of the mandatory discussion of evolution is unquestionably part of a secular education program,” said Hamilton.
"Freshwater did not engage in religious proselytization - he discussed a scientific theory that happens to be consistent with the teachings of multiple major world religions," Hamilton wrote.
The board's actions, he concluded, were nothing less "than the censorship of ideas."
Attorneys for the school board additionally countered that Freshwater had a history of trying to push his religion while in the classroom.
Going back to 1994, a middle school principal told Freshwater to stop distributing an "Answers in Genesis" pamphlet which contained information about a creationist organization's upcoming seminar, according to an official document submitted by board attorneys asking the court to uphold Freshwater's firing.
Freshwater also passed out a pamphlet entitled "Survival of the Fakest," in order to teach his students they should doubt the validity science, the board's attorneys said.
Attorneys for both Freshwater and the Mount Vernon School Board leave the Ohio Supreme Court with competing accounts on whether or not the teacher unconstitutionally inserted his own religious beliefs into the classroom.
Read more: New York Daily News