By Bill Korach
This morning, I spoke with John Freshwater, a teacher of 23 years who was fired from the Mt. Vernon, Ohio high school because he had a Bible on his desk. Freshwater, married for 32 years is a proud father of three; a son who graduated from the United States Military Academy, a daughter who graduated from the United States Naval Academy, and a daughter who is still in the Mt. Vernon High School. In 2006, he won Outstanding Teacher of the Year, and has always earned excellent evaluations. However, in 2008 a complaint was lodged about the Bible that had always sat on his desk in the classroom.
Mr. Freshwater refused to remove the Bible and later, and another complaint was lodged against Mr. Freshwater with 30 allegations of wrongdoing. Some of the allegations stated that Mr. Freshwater’s faith tainted his instruction in science. Mr. Freshwater was the only teacher at the high school whose students passed the 2007/8 Ohio science assessment test. So why the complaint against a teacher of this caliber?
Mr. Freshwater believes that the genesis of the problem began in 2003 when he taught the theory of evolution to his 8th grade class. The teaching requirements stated that the theory of evolution was to be critically analyzed. This Mr. Freshwater sought to do, but learned that the school would brook no criticism of evolution. The school administration and some of the faculty objected to Mr. Freshwater’s critical discussion of evolution, and the data related to evolution, in spite of the requirement to analyze evolution critically.
Mr. Freshwater was first suspended without pay in 2008 and in January of 2011, he was terminated from Mt. Vernon High School. He chose to fight the school district in court, and has had to sell the family farm to pay the thousands of hours of court cost to defend himself. Mr. Freshwater points out that the school district has spent over $1 Million for a law firm to discourage his legal effort to defend himself.
Last week John Freshwater’s fight to return to the classroom advanced to the highest court in Ohio. This court has never decided a case of this caliber and the rights of Ohio teachers hang in the balance.
“Our member lost his job for doing what other good teachers do on a regular basis; he went beyond the curriculum encouraging students towards higher levels of thinking, and not sterilizing his classroom of any items connected to religion including his personal Bible,” said Finn Laursen, Executive Director of Christian Educators Association International.
John Freshwater said “Academic freedoms were once the foundation of American education. It is so sad that it is being eroded away. My case is a clear example of this.”
Freshwater, a 20-year veteran at Mt. Vernon, was suspended by the Mount Vernon City School District Board of Education in 2008 and officially terminated in January 2011 even though his students repeatedly scored superior on standardized tests.
The Rutherford Institute noted, “the School Board justified its actions by accusing Freshwater of improperly injecting religion into the classroom by giving students ‘reason to doubt the accuracy and/or veracity of scientists, science textbooks and/or science in general.’ The Board also claimed that Freshwater failed to remove ‘all religious articles’ from his classroom, including a Bible.”
According to Laursen other states are passing legislation to clarify that schools are not religious free zones and that all scientific evidence can be shared in public classrooms even if not supporting evolutionary origins of life.
“This fight centered in Ohio goes beyond state borders and one teacher; it will clarify if our public schools are to be a place of controlled indoctrination or a place where the freedom our forefathers framed in the Constitution rules. It will send a message to districts whether teachers of faith shed First Amendment rights at the school house door,” said Laursen.