Secular Groups File Briefs in Freshwater Case


As the Ohio Supreme Court prepares to hear the appeal of the firing of John Freshwater as a public school science teacher in Mt. Vernon, Ohio, several secular groups have filed briefs in the case arguing that the firing was entirely justified given Freshwater’s relentless abuse of his position to proselytize students for Christianity. Americans United for Separation of Church and State put out a press release about their brief:

“Public schools must remain focused on teaching, not preaching,” said the Rev. Barry W. Lynn, executive director of Americans United. “Freshwater violated that cardinal rule, and the board was right to fire him.”

Added Lynn, “If Freshwater prevails, public schools will have no way to stop teachers from bringing any topic they choose into their lessons plans. The result will be chaos in the classrooms.”

Freshwater handed out creationist material in class, which he always collected and refused to let students take home, and he passed out surveys to students, asking them if religion was important to them…

“There is no legal authority of any kind for the suggestion that individual teachers can override or ignore a school district’s set curriculum,” observes AU’s brief. “Nor could there be: Public schools simply could not function on those terms.”

Elsewhere the brief asserts, “Although Freshwater apparently believes himself to have been acting in the service of Christianity, his actions disserved both religion and science education by placing matters of faith in competition with science in the classroom. Science instruction need not compete with theology, unless the teacher sets them at odds with one another – which is just what Freshwater did.”

You can read that brief here (PDF).

Comments

  1. Alverant says

    What do you want to bet he’s going to claim he’s being persecuted by the big bad government?

  2. Michael Heath says

    Elsewhere the brief asserts, “Although Freshwater apparently believes himself to have been acting in the service of Christianity, his actions disserved both religion and science education by placing matters of faith in competition with science in the classroom. Science instruction need not compete with theology, unless the teacher sets them at odds with one another – which is just what Freshwater did.”

    I wonder if Mr. Freshwater was capable of admitting to himself that his leveraging the power and opportunities inherent in being a government public school teacher by, “acting in the service of Christianity”, was in violation of the principle of the Constitution and also how the law is applied.

    I bring this up because the most vociferous conservative supporters of religious freedom that I encounter are either politicians pandering to conservative Christians or conservative Christian government employees seeking to exploit the power of government to promote their own religion even when it violates the protected religious freedom rights of the people; where the former group and those they pander to simultaneously, hypocritically, and falsely claim they are the true defenders of liberty.

  3. AsqJames says

    Science instruction need not compete with theology, unless the teacher sets them at odds with one another

    I can’t think of a single significant theology/religion which is not in some way at odds with established science.

  4. Chiroptera says

    AsqJames, #3:

    Ha! That’s were “sophisticated theology” has you atheists all beat!

    There is or was some sort of being or a thing that might have done something or another at some time in the past — maybe it might still occassionally do something. Or not.

    Disprove that established science!

  5. dingojack says

    uh – burning crosses into the arms of students using a Tesla Coil.

    Can Freshwater justify branding students?

    Dingo

  6. baal says

    My first thought was that 3rd secular groups don’t really have anything to do with the direct issues in the case. My second (and better) thought is that 3rd parties regularly weigh in on cases to give a ‘sense of the communtity’ and to let the court know that more than the litigants are interested in the outcome (and brief extra issues the parties may not have had resources to handle). I’m happy to see we’re getting more regularized in the ways that count.

  7. erichoug says

    UGH! This is the worst possible horse for the religious right to keep riding. It always reminds me of the anti-death penalty people who championed Gary Grahm/Shaka Sankofa. Both men are guilty as hell and deserve exactly what they got.

    Freshwater should not be teaching anywhere besides an unaccredited Bible college and anyone who reads through the facts in the case can only come to the same conclusion. The RR should just drop this one and let Freshwater find a nice rock to crawl under.

  8. says

    Dingo:

    uh – burning crosses into the arms of students using a Tesla Coil.

    Can Freshwater justify branding students?

    Yeah. That’s what I was thinking of when I read the post. It’s still important to cover his other willful violations, but that one should be at the top of the list and more than worth the firing on its own.

  9. says

    As the Ohio Supreme Court prepares to hear the appeal of the firing of John Freshwater as a public school science teacher in Mt. Vernon, Ohio,

    Why is the court even bothering to hear this case at all? As others above have pointed out, he used a Tesla coil to burn crosses into a student’s arm. That by itself should be justification enough for firing him. The other stuff is just gravy. What could he possibly have said to make the Ohio Supreme Court even think this case was worth hearing at all?

  10. tomh says

    Bronze Dog wrote:

    It’s still important to cover his other willful violations, but that one should be at the top of the list and more than worth the firing on its own.

    Except that it’s irrelevant. That incident was not among the 11 conduct violations listed in his termination notice , nor does it play any part in the appeal to the Ohio Supreme Court.

  11. cottonnero says

    Just as well that the burning students thing isn’t in the brief; I’d like for the courts to clearly state that conduct like Freshwater’s is unacceptable even when no students are burned.

  12. Ichthyic says

    Except that it’s irrelevant.

    This is true, but I wonder if it would have been if the civil case against Freshwater brought by the Dennis family (which was of course settled much earlier than Freshwater’s actual termination), had become a criminal one instead.

    I think people tend to dismiss the actions of Freshwater in this matter because the civil suit was settled, but it would still be considered grounds for termination in and of itself in most districts I’m familiar with.

  13. Ichthyic says

    I’d like for the courts to clearly state that conduct like Freshwater’s is unacceptable even when no students are burned.

    just to be clear, I agree with this as well.

  14. rbh3 says

    The Examiner link is incomplete, Ed. The National Center for Science Education, Americans United with the Anti-Defamation League, The American Humanist Association with the Secular Student Alliance, and the Dennis family have all filed amicus briefs. They’re available here. My Thumb post summarizing them is here.

  15. says

    Ed’s oubliette of doomed comments seems to have eaten both my original comment and the one I rewrote. Sorry for any duplication, if they’re being held up in the grist mill.

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