Proselytizing Teacher’s Firing Upheld By Ohio Supreme Court

John Freshwater

In probably the last gasp for Mount Vernon, Ohio’s proselytizing teacher, John Freshwater, the Ohio Supreme Court ruled 4-3 today that his termination for insubordination was correct. In addition the court ruled that Freshwater had his rights violated when the school district demanded he remove his personal Bible from his classroom desk but that his additional actions in defying that order was enough to justify removing him.

Chief Justice O’Connor wrote in today’s opinion that good and just cause for terminating a public school teacher’s contract includes “insubordination consisting of a willful disobedience of, or refusal to obey, a reasonable and valid rule, regulation, or order issued by a school board or by an administrative superior.” The court, she reasoned, had to both determine whether Freshwater disobeyed orders given to him and also evaluate whether the orders were reasonable and valid.

She explained that the school’s principal told Freshwater in writing that, as a public school teacher, he could not “engage in any activity that promotes or denigrates a particular religion or religious beliefs while on board property, during any school activity” or when he was teaching.

“The district simply stated what the law, and the First Amendment, commands,” she wrote. “Freshwater not only ignored the school district’s directive, he defied it. After he was directed to remove the items, Freshwater deliberately added to them, incorporating the Oxford Bible and Jesus of Nazareth into the classroom. He then refused to remove his personal Bible from his desk, and refused to remove a depiction of former President George W. Bush and Colin Powell and others in prayer from his wall.”

However, the chief justice explained, when the school district told Freshwater he had to put away his personal Bible, it infringed on his First Amendment right protecting the free exercise of religion. The school board could not terminate Freshwater merely for keeping a personal Bible on his desk, the chief justice continued. She stressed that the class considered his desk to be his personal space, that Freshwater relied on that Bible in the exercise of his religion, and that he did not display his personal Bible to his students.

Science Teacher Cannot Display Religious Material in Classroom

Contrary to what Freshwater and his supporters argued he wasn’t fired just because he refused to remove his Bible. He was fired for his insubordination that happened during the conflict. Had he only refused to remove the Bible and didn’t do the other things like trying to teach creationism, he might have won his case, based on the ruling issued today.

What is equally scary is Justice Terrence O’Donnell whose dissent accepted junk creationism as a valid theory to teach in a science classroom.

I mention this is probably the last gasp for Freshwater because he might want to appeal the ruling. However since the ruling was based on administrative law and not civil rights it would be hard for a Federal court to take the case. He already lost in the court of appeals earlier – but one never knows because creationists like Freshwater never seem to give up in the face of strong evidence they are wrong – like Evolution and court rulings.

Full court opinion: Freshwater v. Mt. Vernon City School Dist. Bd. of Edn. (11/19/2013)

More coverage about the Freshwater case can be found on Panda’s Thumb

Read previous posts about this case here on Secular Left


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