In a case that has been litigated since 2008 (and is still ongoing), John Freshwater, a teacher who previously lived and worked in Mount Vernon, Ohio, insists that his First Amendment rights and “academic freedom” were violated when he was fired by the school district for teaching Creationism in class and burning a cross into the arms of students using a Tesla coil.
From the report that lead to his firing:
Mr. Freshwater was insubordinate in failing to remove all of the religious materials from his classroom as ordered by his superior, Principal White.
- Mr. Freshwater did burn a cross onto the complaining family’s child’s arm using an electrostatic device not designed for that purpose
- The Ten Commandments together with other posters of a religious nature were posted in Mr. Freshwater’s classroom. Most were removed after Mr. White’s letter of April 14, 2008, but at least one poster remained which Mr. Freshwater was again instructed to remove on April 16, 2008, but did not do so.
- Several Bibles were kept in Mr. Freshwater’s classroom including his personal Bible on his desk and one he checked out of the library placed on the lab table near the desk. Other Bibles that had been maintained in the room were removed by the time the investigators viewed Mr. Freshwater’s room.
- Mr. Freshwater engaged in teaching of a religious nature, teaching creationism and related theories and calling evolution into question. He had other materials in his classroom that could be used for that purpose.
- Mr. Freshwater engaged in prayer during FCA meetings in violation of the District’s legal obligations for monitoring such organizations.
- Mr. Freshwater participated and possibly lead a prayer during an FCA meeting that concerned a guest speaker’s health. There is no conclusion as to whether such prayer was a “healing” prayer.
- Mr. Freshwater gave an extra credit assignment for students to view the movie “Expelled” which does involve intelligent design.
It’s important to note that Freshwater did not work at a religious institute but a regular public school (not that branding would be acceptable at ANY kind of school). Freshwater knows, as does every Creationist teacher, that the courts have struck down (over and over again), in the harshest possible terms, any attempt to legally teach Creationism, Intelligent Design or any other phony variation of anti-evolution claptrap in public schools. It’s a direct violation of the Separation Clause in the First Amendment. Freshwater did not care. How do we know Freshwater knew he was breaking the law? Like any common criminal, he tried to hide the evidence:
There is a significant amount of evidence that Mr. Freshwater’s teachings regarding subjects related to evolution were not consistent with the curriculum of the Mount Vernon City Schools and State standards. Contrary to Mr. Freshwater’s statement, the evidence indicates he has been teaching creationism and intelligent design and has been teaching the unreliability of carbon dating in support of opposition to evolution. He has passed out materials to students for the past several years challenging evolution and then collecting the materials back from the students. He has done so in spite of specific directives not to teach creationism or intelligent design. He has taught students to use the code word “Here” to challenge scientific process that is considered settled by the high school science teachers.
However, it is equally clear that Freshwater is hoping to be a new test case. His claim of “academic freedom” is simply a new tactic to force religion into the classroom. Via Alternet:
“Academic freedom was once the bedrock of American education,” Rutherford Institute President John W. Whitehead said in a media statement. “That is no longer the state of affairs, as this case makes clear. What we need today are more teachers and school administrators who understand that young people don’t need to be indoctrinated. Rather, they need to be taught how to think for themselves.”
This sounds like a solid argument but its foundation is pure quicksand. “Academic freedom,” in this case, is the “freedom” to teach whatever one believes regardless of whether it has any basis in reality whatsoever. By this standard, a history teacher can teach that slaves were happy to be slaves and that the Civil War was the worst thing to ever happen to the black population of America. A biology teacher could teach that germs are not the cause of disease but rather an imbalance of the humors. A science teacher can teach that dinosaurs never existed and that fossils were planted by Satan to make us doubt God. All this and more under the guise of “academic freedom.”
What makes this case worth noting today is that, despite having lost in court twice, the Ohio Supreme Court has decided to take up the case. If it fails there, Freshwater will no doubt try to make a federal case out of it (literally). The federal courts are riddled with partisan extremists appointed by the Bush administration, the Supreme Court being the most obvious example. As many times as Creationist anti-science loses, it only needs to win once to set a precedent. In much the same way that Voter ID laws spread throughout the country like a virus, so, too, would a successfully litigated case of “academic freedom” spread to every school district with religious fanatics on its board.
This “academic freedom” bit fails, as all Christian Fundamentalist claims to “religious freedom” do, to pass the Muslim Test. If Freshwater’s children came home with a copy of the Koran and instructions to read up on how Jesus was a prophet and not the son of God, it is inconceivable that he would smile and be happy for the “academic freedom” of a Muslim teacher. People like Freshwater do not want freedom for all, they want special “freedoms” for their brand of twisted Christianity.