Today, three secular groups, Americans United for Separation of Church and State, the Secular Student Alliance and the American Humanist Association, all filed friend of the court briefs in an Ohio Supreme Court case where former public middle school science teacher John Freshwater is appealing his firing by the Mount Vernon OH school board. Freshwater was suspended in 2008 and termination proceedings were initiated after an independant investigative report concluded he was teaching Creationism and preaching Christian beliefs in his 8th grade science classes instead of the required science curriculum. Evidence was also produced that he had burned a cross in at least one child’s arm with a Tesla coil (the student’s family filed suit against Freshwater and the school board and won a judgement against them and a financial settlement). After another lengthy investigation, Freshwater was finally terminated in January of 2011.
Since then he has lost wrongful termination appeals in both the Court of Common Pleas and the Ohio Fifth District Court of Appeals. He is now seeking to have their decisions overturned in the State Supreme Court.
The secular groups filed their briefs in support of the school board’s firing of Freshwater.
From an Oct. 4 AUSCS press release:
“Public schools must remain focused on teaching, not preaching,” said the Rev. Barry W. Lynn, executive director of Americans United. “Freshwater violated that cardinal rule, and the board was right to fire him.”
Added Lynn, “If Freshwater prevails, public schools will have no way to stop teachers from bringing any topic they choose into their lessons plans. The result will be chaos in the classrooms.”
Also from the AU press release:
“There is no legal authority of any kind for the suggestion that individual teachers can override or ignore a school district’s set curriculum,” observes AU’s brief. “Nor could there be: Public schools simply could not function on those terms.”
Elsewhere the brief asserts, “Although Freshwater apparently believes himself to have been acting in the service of Christianity, his actions disserved both religion and science education by placing matters of faith in competition with science in the classroom. Science instruction need not compete with theology, unless the teacher sets them at odds with one another – which is just what Freshwater did.”
Press releases from the Secular Student Alliance and the American Humanist Association were not available at the time of this writing.
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