Columbus, Ohio — The Ohio Supreme Court heard arguments Wednesday both for and against a former science teacher who was fired in 2011 for encouraging his students to challenge evolutionary theory.
As previously reported, 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 regarding the theory of evolution. When he was forbidden from doing so, he ignored their admonishment and began to present the principles of Intelligent Design anyway.
In 2008, Freshwater came under scrutiny for incorporating Christianity into the classroom environment, and officials ordered him to remove all religious items from his room, which included a poster of the Ten Commandments, as well as other displays that contained passages from Scripture. He was also told that the Christian materials that he had been using to refute evolutionary theory were concerning. Freshwater 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. The case then went to the Ohio Supreme Court.
According to the Associated Press, legal argument between local attorney David Smith, who represented the school district, and Rita Dunaway of the Christian legal organization The Rutherford Institute, who represented Freshwater, lasted for about an hour on Wednesday. Smith asserted that there is no way for Freshwater to “teach evolution from a Christian perspective” without violating the United States Constitution.
“There is no academic freedom of the teacher to do that,” he contended. “This is not a case about industrial hemp. It’s not a case about the Iraqi war. Political sociological viewpoint is something completely different.”
However, Dunaway noted that Freshwater should have a right to discuss doubts about scientific theories.
“The board’s position basically boils down to the proposition that simply offering students evidence of the gaps or flaws in evolutionary theory is equal to religious indoctrination,” she said, advising that Freshwater’s class excelled in their studies because of the science teacher’s exceptional teaching abilities.
Judge Paul Pfiefer took issue with Smith’s assertions that the teaching of evolution does not fall under the district’s controversial issues policy.
“So, there’s nothing controversial about evolution?” he asked. “It is a theory, isn’t it?”
Judges also listened to the various reasons that were presented for Freshwater’s dismissal in order to ascertain whether the school district’s actions were lawful.
The Supreme Court will decide on the matter in the weeks and months to come.
Watch Freshwater defend his position before the school board during a 2010 hearing.