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Freshwater Appeals to Supreme Court

Having lost at every level so far, creationist former science teacher John Freshwater has now filed a writ of certiorari with the Supreme Court, which they will almost certainly deny. Richard Hoppe reports that the writ contains some serious inconsistencies with his previous claims in earlier phases of the case. The writ contains two questions they want the court to consider:

1. Whether firing a public school teacher for checking out and possessing school library books as a form of passive protest violates the First Amendment. 2. Whether firing a public school teacher for teaching the scientific strengths and weaknesses of biological evolution violates the First Amendment.

I find it fascinating how they’ve been pretending that it was all about having a Bible on his desk, completely ignoring all of the other reasons why he was fired. Like, ya know, burning a fucking cross in a kid’s arm with a Tesla coil and admitting to having done the same thing to many other kids over the years. And having posters up in his room with Bible verses. And showing videos and handing out material from young earth creationists. And holding prayer sessions with students. And so on, and so on.

Here are some of the inconsistencies:

Two things in Freshwater’s application for cert immediately stand out to me. First, Freshwater has previously denied (at least implicitly) that checking out the two books–a version of the Bible and a book titled “Jesus of Nazareth”–was a protest. Testimony in the hearing established that Freshwater checked the two books out of the library after he had been instructed by Principal White to remove religious materials from his classroom. And according to the independent investigator’s report, when asked if the purpose of adding the books to his classroom was to “make a statement,” Freshwater was quoted as replying “Yes.” But he earlier claimed that perhaps he had checked the books out before he received those instructions, and that the due date in them was later because he could have renewed them over the phone. So at best his testimony concerning the two books is equivocal. But now he concedes that it was a protest. See here for his evasive testimony on that topic.

Second, he now claims that he was teaching the “strengths and weaknesses” of evolution. Over the years he has offered several different stories concerning what he taught. First, in the administrative hearing he testified that he never taught intelligent design or creationism. Then later he testified that he may have used creationist materials, but it was only to illustrate bias and lack of objectivity and how bias can lead to bad science. Finally, in a radio interview with David Barton’s Wallbuilders radio program, he said that he taught “robust evolution,” meaning that

I showed what was the evidence for evolution, I showed evidence that was opposed to evolution. I showed all sides.
RG: And let the kids decide?
JF: Yes. Let the kids decide. I stayed neutral on it, and let the kids make a decision on it.

And there’s some great evidence for, and there’s some great evidence that goes against it. And I think the kids need to see all evidence rather than indoctrinating them only on one side or the other.

And what was the “great evidence that goes against it”? Kent Hovind videos and handouts from sites like allaboutgod.com.

Consider just the last two stories Freshwater told about creationism. First he says that he used creationist materials to illustrate bias and how it can lead to bad science. But then in the Barton interview, he says he taught the evidence against evolution, which was from creationist sources according to several lines of evidence. This is typical: Two mutually inconsistent stories to account for constitutionally forbidden behavior in a public school classroom. Students in his classroom told the independent investigators that Freshwater told them “…how it [evolution] can or can’t be true and got both sides of the story” and “Mr. Freshwater showed us both sides of the issue.” That doesn’t sound like he was illustrating bad science to me. See here for more on his multiple stories.

It’s interesting how they’re equivocating. The young earth creationist nonsense he was teaching with handouts and videos is exactly the material that the Supreme Court said could not be taught in public school science classrooms in 1987, but they’re labeling that material as teaching the “strengths and weaknesses of evolution,” a catchphrase invented to get around that ruling.

Comments

  1. eric says

    The burning thing is not part of the court case. I’m not defending the behavior, merely saying that the plaintiffs didn’t argue based on that action, the original court therefore didn’t consider it when making a decision, and therefore none of the appeals courts will consider it either.

    Before yesterday’s SCOTUS ruling I was pretty certain the court would never touch this case. Even if the conservatives justices want to revisit creationism’s legality, this really isn’t an ideal case or ideal defendant on which to build that policy. However, yesterday’s ruling about prayer has made me a bit more cautious, and now I really am worried that they will take it, and Kennedy will side with the conservative judges to expand the right of teachers to cover (their own) religious beliefs in science classes.

  2. abb3w says

    @1, eric

    However, yesterday’s ruling about prayer has made me a bit more cautious, and now I really am worried that they will take it, and Kennedy will side with the conservative judges to expand the right of teachers to cover (their own) religious beliefs in science classes.

    Based on my skim through the Galloway ruling, that seems unlikely. While you’d be right to worry if Kennedy had signed on to the concurrence by Scalia and Thomas, Kennedy spends a lot of time indicating that there is an important line of Separation — and that the line is a lot starker in the shadow of a schoolyard.

    Granted, I’d still be antsy if they did take the case; there’s a lot of Kennedy’s ruling that seems to reflect some major twisting of facts to avoid kicking down the tradition of legislative prayers, making for a wretched new precedent.

  3. John Pieret says

    I guess the Rutherford Institute is still backing Freshwater. He has the same lawyer as he did in front of the Ohio State Supreme Court.

  4. eric says

    there’s a lot of Kennedy’s ruling that seems to reflect some major twisting of facts to avoid kicking down the tradition of legislative prayers, making for a wretched new precedent.

    How do you think he would rule about cases of ‘voluntary’ school prayer, such as cheerleaders with signs, a school-chosen student giving a daily announcement, and so on? That’s a sincere question, not a rhetorical one – the latest ruling has made me very glum in thinking about such a case reaching the court, because it (the last case) makes me think Kennedy would almost certainly see such student-lead prayers as constitutional.

  5. D. C. Sessions says

    It’s not compulsory unless you get expelled for not participating. Or perhaps just having your grades suffer is enough.

  6. John Pieret says

    Kevin Kehres:

    Oh those lovely billable hours.

    Rita M. Dunaway is a true believer who is an advisor to the Virginia Christian Alliance. See, also, her blog post after the oral arguments in the Ohio State Supreme Court:

    http://fundamental-things.blogspot.com/2013/03/the-rest-of-story_21.html

    She may be doing this pro bono or at reduced rates. Even if she is, there are a lot of other costs involved in appeals that Freshwater probably can’t pay, which is why I think the Rutherford Institute is still footing the bills.

  7. gshelley says

    I would think there are at least two votes for giving him the chance to preach to his students, but it does seem that Roberts and Kennedy at least want to pretend to have valid justification for doing so, so won’t go for it

  8. dogmeat says

    How do you think he would rule about cases of ‘voluntary’ school prayer, such as cheerleaders with signs, a school-chosen student giving a daily announcement, and so on? That’s a sincere question, not a rhetorical one – the latest ruling has made me very glum in thinking about such a case reaching the court, because it (the last case) makes me think Kennedy would almost certainly see such student-lead prayers as constitutional.

    After reading about the Galloway ruling, I have to admit I’m a bit uncertain regarding this question. The school reading the prayer seems to still be prohibited, but a “voluntary” prayer led by a “member of the student body” that is “non-coercive” doesn’t seem that far removed from the “logic” behind their ruling.

  9. freehand says

    D. C. Sessions: It’s not compulsory unless you get expelled for not participating. Or perhaps just having your grades suffer is enough.
    .
    “If there are no bruises, the student couldn’t have been abused.”
    – All bullies, everywhere

  10. Crimson Clupeidae says

    I’m taking bets. This will be denied cert, with no comment from the SCOTUS.

  11. says

    The school reading the prayer seems to still be prohibited, but a “voluntary” prayer led by a “member of the student body” that is “non-coercive” doesn’t seem that far removed from the “logic” behind their ruling.

    Peer pressure doesn’t exist in religious matters, only for other things.

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