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Ohio Teacher of the Year Fired for the Bible on His Desk Brings Case to Ohio Supreme Court

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.

Schools need to treasure teachers like John Freshwater, not fire them.


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17 Responses to “Ohio Teacher of the Year Fired for the Bible on His Desk Brings Case to Ohio Supreme Court”

  1. Paul Burnett says:

    The resolution of Mr. Freshwater’s termination does not mention a Bible – this is a matter of public record.

    Although Mr. Freshwater’s son did attend the United States Military Academy, he did not graduate – this is a matter of public record.

    The 2008 complaint which was lodged against Mr. Freshwater did not mention a Bible, but did mention his use of a Tesla coil to burn students in his class. This is a matter of public record.

    Ohio state teaching requirements do not include a requirement to “analyze evolution critically” – this is a matter of public record.

    One wonders where the author of this article got his “facts.”

  2. OM says:

    Is it possible to hear what this “scientific evidence” that does not support evolution actually is?

  3. Mary says:

    This has been going on for years. You do not have the complete story. This teacher has changed his story tons of times and was said to be untruthful by a Federal Judge. He was NOT fired for having a Bible on his desk.

  4. Alan R. says:

    As important as this topic is, I wonder why there are no comments…. Don’t bother, I know why: Any time something has “Truth” in the title you know that they are leaving something out.


  5. TallGrass05 says:

    Wow, this article is wonderfully full of errors. Among the errors noted above, there is no ” Outstanding Teacher of the Year” award in that school district.

    What, no mention of Freshwater using a Tesla coil on the skin of students?

  6. Owen says:

    I notice in your Mission Statement you hold the Constitution in high regard.

    With this in mind — I’m sure you know — the Constitution forbids a government endorsement of religion, which, sends a message to all the other faiths or non-faiths, or belief systems that they are not welcome. Most importantly, the Constitution exists to protect the rights of the few, or EVEN ONE, against the tyranny of the majority — even your particular Christian majority.

    Not only, does the Constitution protect young minds from the likes of creationism (Christian creationism in the case of Freshwater) but it also shields us from other religious dogmas.

    I hope you would comprehend that not having ANY endorsement of religion in school also benefits you. Or would you tolerate: “As-sallamu alaikum! Al-hamdulillah.” (“Peace be upon you, Praise Allah.”) during school functions?

    Perhaps we could let the Jehovah Witnesses dictate their beliefs in our public schools? No saluting or pledging allegiance to the flag of the Untied States of America?

    How about letting scientology have influence over our public schools?

    How about Mormons?

    How about Catholics?


    You see, the only TRUE, solution is NOT having a government endorsement of religion in our public schools.

  7. Paul Burnett says:

    To Bill Korach: A naturally-occurring question is when you spoke to Mr. Freshwater, did the mis-statements of facts originate with him, or with you? Because there’s a major problem here in either case, which, in the interests of truth, you need to address and fix.

    Some mis-statements of fact in the article may be simple mis-understandings, such as the fact that Mr. Freshwater was teaching in a middle school, not a high school. If Mr. Freshwater did not mention the fact that he burned a symbol on students’ arms with a Tesla coil-type device, you need to conduct further investigation. There is a possibility, however remote, that you may have been mis-informed by Mr. Freshwater.

  8. NM says:

    Sad that some students feel pressured into an unnecessary false duality between science and religion. I attended private Christian schools, but our high school biology books centered on evolution:
    Co-author Dr Kenneth Miller has been quite open about his Christian beliefs.

    Unfortunately, it seems Freshwater was unable or unwilling to appreciate that using 15th century science as a foundation for religious faith can later undermine that faith if a student eventually discovers that 15th century science has no practical application other than giving warm fuzzy feelings. Not to mention students learning 15th century science in a highly scientific 21st century are at a bad competitive disadvantage.

    PS: Freshwater actually taught middle school, not high school.

  9. TeamReason says:

    It has truly become a running joke that anytime you see a website or organization which uses “family values” or “Truth” or any of those Teavangelical Christian right-wing buzzwords, you are highly likely to find nothing more than a smattering of logical fallacies, patently debunked psuedoscientific religious nonsense, and a heap of half-truths mixed in with all out unabashed lies.

    And yet they wonder why people under 30 in the Western world are leaving them in droves.

    “The internet killed religion”
    – (Future Historian)

  10. Bonnie says:

    I don’t know the details of this story. But since none of the above complaints deny that Mr. Freshwater’s students were the only ones in the high school that achieved such high levels on the state assessment, I would assume that to be vital to this case. This teacher must be
    outstanding and expect high standards. Could professional jealousy be a hidden part of this issue? Also, those who follow the Intelligent Design (ID) movement, are well aware that Darwinians today canNOT prove macro-evolution: one species evolving into another. DNA is just one 20th c. scientific fact that does not support the 19th c. theory that Darwin himself had hoped would be proven in the future. But somehow
    the Cambrian Explosion keeps getting in the way!

    How ironic that the Scopes Trial centered on just allowing another point of view to be included in the curriculum along with Creationism, for free inquiry purposes. Today, it is the Intelligent Design scientists who are fighting to allow students to know there is a raging debate surrounding Evolution, and IDers are the ones wanting other scientific views and recent discoveries to be allowed within the schools–along with Evolution! Denying students the right tomresearch, discuss, and debate the origins of life from all points of view is a disservice and antithetical to education with integrity: the search for Truth.

    Besides the fact: controversy and debate are two strategies to capture students’ attention and motivate them toward a deeper level of learning.

    • NM says:

      Evolution may be politically and religiously controversial in some political circles and some religious circles. But evolution is NOT a scientific controversy. Yes, many peripheral issues are scientifically far from agreed on. For example, scientists can have hot debate if such and such case of evolution is caused by genetic drift or natural selection or gene hitchhiking or some other mechanism. But again, evolution itself is not a scientific controversy.

      Feel free to check out ‘Perspectives On An Evolving Creation’ which is an anthology of essays by geologist Dr Keith Miller and other religious scientists. One of the essays explains why the Cambrian Explosion is not a problem for evolution. Keith Miller (no relation to biologist Kenneth Miller) is also an officer member of Affiliation of Christian Geologists and board member of Kansas Citizens For Science.

      Evolution has a lot of lines of evidence, all independent from each other. Evo-devo alone hints that there is hardly much mechanical difference between so-called micro-evolution and macro-evolution. Feel free to look this up in ‘Endless Forms Most Beautiful’ by geneticist Dr Sean B Carroll.

    • NM says:

      Quote from Intelligent Design godfather Phillip Johnson:

      “I also don’t think that there is really a theory of intelligent design at the present time to propose as a comparable alternative to the Darwinian theory, which is, whatever errors it might contain, a fully worked out scheme. There is no intelligent design theory that’s comparable. Working out a positive theory is the job of the scientific people that we have affiliated with the movement. Some of them are quite convinced that it’s doable, but that’s for them to prove…No product is ready for competition in the educational world.”
      [Berkley Science Review (Spring 2006)]

      PS: Bonnie, evolution is the study of already-existing life, not the origin of life.

  11. Paul Burnett says:

    Bonnie, if you’re willing to admit that the Cambrian “Explosion” took place more than 6,000 years ago (that alone would would be progress), how long ago do you believe it occurred, and how long did the Cambrian “Explosion” last? Do you claim it was essentially instantaneous, or did it take a few tens of millions of years?

    And are you denying that Mr. Freshwater burned symbols on the skin of some of his students? Do you feel that is a valid pedagogical technique?

  12. KL says:

    Oh my, Miss Bonnie. Where to start?

    There are no Intelligent Design Scientists. There is no evidence refuting evolution. “macro-evolution” is the same process as “micro-evolution” just in a longer time scale, and has been observed/documented dozens of times. DNA supports beautifully the original notion laid down by Darwin-in fact, DNA alone can fully verify evolution without evidence from anywhere else.

    It helps to know the science before you post. Try using real science books and sources rather than the Discovery Institute and AIG.

  13. Paul Burnett says:

    I would like to ask Ms. Dunaway to provide a list of the theories Mr. Freshwater had the students explore the strengths and weaknesses of. Was there more than one?

    I would also like to ask Ms. Dunaway if she would be willing to let anyone of her choice use the Tesla coil device to burn a “temporary and harmless” mark on her arm.

  14. RBH says:

    Bonnie wrote:

    “I don’t know the details of this story. But since none of the above complaints deny that Mr. Freshwater’s students were the only ones in the high school that achieved such high levels on the state assessment, I would assume that to be vital to this case. This teacher must be outstanding and expect high standards.”

    I DO know the details: I attended the hearing on Freshwater’s termination. There were three 8th grade science teachers in the middle school. Freshwater’s students scored slightly higher than the others. However, there were differences in the composition of the classes (e.g., differences in students requiring Individual Educational Plans–special ed kids) and differences in the number of teacher’s aides assigned to the classes. Further, given pure sampling error, Freshwater’s students had a 1 in 3 probability of being the highest scoring due purely to chance. At no time was it ever established that the scores of Freshwater’s students relative to the students of the other teachers were due to his teaching. The available data made it impossible to evaluate that claim.

  15. Paul Burnett says:

    For the record, the “Tesla coil” device is not exactly a Tesla coil – it’s a variation of a Tesla coil. It’s an Electro-Technic Products Model BD-10A High Frequency Generator, which “has an output of between 20,000 to 45,000 volts, at a frequency of approximately 500 kHz” according to the instruction manual – which also says “Never touch or come in contact with the high voltage output of this device…”


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