John Freshwater, a science teacher at Mount Vernon Middle School, had approached school officials in 2003 to request that he be allowed to explain to students the various disagreements that exist against the theory of evolution. When he was forbidden from doing so, he ignored their admonishment and began to present principles of Intelligent Design anyway.
In 2008, Freshwater came under scrutiny for his incorporation of Christianity into the classroom environment, and officials ordered him to remove all religious items, which included a poster of the Ten Commandments, as well as other displays that contained passages from Scripture. They also reportedly stated that the Christian materials that he had been using to refute evolutionary theory raised concern. He agreed to take down the majority of the items, but insisted that the Bible that he kept on His desk had to stay.
Following the incident, supportive students decided to rally behind Freshwater by wearing Christian t-shirts to school and carrying Bibles to class.
However, the Mount Vernon School Board decided to suspend the science teacher for not completely abiding by the order and for using his religious beliefs to influence students on matters relating to the origin of life. In January 2011, he was officially fired. Freshwater had served at the school for 20 of the 24 years of his teaching career.
He appealed the termination to the Knox County Court of Common Pleas, but the presiding judge sided with the school district. The Fifth District Court of Appeals also declined to overturn the decision.
Freshwater, represented by The Rutherford Institute of Charlottesville, Virginia, then appealed to the Ohio Supreme Court, asserting that the school’s actions violated his First and Fourteenth Amendment rights.
“The termination of a public school teacher’s employment contract based on the mere presence of religious texts from the school’s library and/or the display of a patriotic poster cannot be legally justified, as it constitutes an impermissible violation of the rights of a teacher and his students to free speech and academic freedom under the First Amendment to the United States Constitution and a manifestation of hostility toward religion in violation of the First Amendment’s Establishment Clause,” he stated.
The school board argued that the science teacher had to be disciplined as he gave “reason to doubt the accuracy and/or veracity of scientists, science textbooks and/or science in general.”
On Thursday, in a 4 to 3 decision, the state Supreme Court agreed to hear the case, finding the matter worthy of review.
“Academic freedom was once the bedrock of American education. That is no longer the state of affairs, as this case makes clear,” remarked John W. Whitehead, president of The Rutherford Institute. “What we need today are more teachers and school administrators who understand that young people don’t need to be indoctrinated [in evolutionary theory]. Rather, they need to be taught how to think for themselves.”
Freshwater had also been accused of sharing his objections to homosexuality with students in the classroom, which he denies.
The case is likely to be heard before the court later this year.