Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Freshwater files brief with Ohio Supreme Court

John Freshwater, through his attorneys, filed a merit brief with the Ohio Supreme Court on Friday. The brief presents the basis for his claim that he was wrongfully terminated from his job teaching at Mount Vernon City Schools.

(See here for a copy of the brief.)

In firing Freshwater, the Mount Vernon Board of Education took the position that a public school teacher could not present evidence both for and against evolution, allow students to question material in the textbooks or encourage students to think critically about science in general.

The school board’s resolution firing Freshwater also stated that the teacher failed to remove some unspecified “religious articles” from his classroom. (The only documented item that Freshwater was told to remove but didn’t remove was his personal Bible.)

 “As an eighth-grade science teacher,” the brief says, “Freshwater sought to encourage his students to differentiate between facts and theories or hypotheses, to question and test theories and hypotheses, and to identify and discuss instances where textbook statements were subject to intellectual and scientific debate. This teaching methodology—fostering critical thinking and the challenging and evaluation of a variety of postulated theories—is particularly appropriate in a science classroom.”

The school board’s resolution characterized this teaching methodology as being religious. In laying out the board’s reasons for the firing, the board used a hierarchical outline, divided into two sections, with the section about teaching methodology leading with the statement: “Freshwater injected his personal religious beliefs into his plan and pattern of instructing his students. In doing so, he exceeded the bounds of all the pertinent Bylaws/Policies of the Mount Vernon City School District.”

Freshwater’s brief rebuts the idea that it is improper for teachers to present material that coincides with religious beliefs:

“Academic freedom would be an empty platitude if it provided no protection from censorship of ideas that have religious connections or implications. The impact of the loss of academic freedom on the development of science, technology, and the pursuit of learning in general would be profound and tragic. Consider that while today’s science class may discuss modern theories of origins of life first espoused in the Bible (and censored on that basis alone), yesterday’s classes considered theories about the Hydrologic Cycle or the spherical Earth—also enshrined in religious texts long before accepted by science. The advancement of knowledge demands that students and teachers be free to consider, discuss and debate ideas of all kinds rather than forced to discard any due to the government’s disdain for its source.”

The brief concludes with the following statements:

 “The Board’s actions are nothing less than the censorship of ideas. As such, they eviscerate the First Amendment academic freedom rights of Freshwater and his students, and they transgress the neutrality requirement of the Establishment Clause. As the United States Supreme Court has instructed, ‘students must always remain free to inquire, to study and to evaluate, to gain new maturity and understanding.’

“Here the Board has ignored these essential principles and attempted to transform students into ‘closed-circuit recipients of only that which the State chooses to communicate.’”

Freshwater is seeking monetary damages and reinstatement to his position teaching eighth-grade science.

The brief was filed on behalf of Freshwater by his attorneys R. Kelly Hamilton and Rita M. Dunaway, both affiliated with The Rutherford Institute.

Note: Internal case citations were omitted from the quotes from the brief. 

Additional information:

John Freshwater v. Mount Vernon City School District Board of Education, case information and documents, Supreme Court of Ohio

“Press release: Ohio Supreme Court agrees to hear Rutherford Institute’s case of science teacher fired for urging students to think critically about evolution”

“MV school board: Firing of Freshwater not of public interest”

“Press release: Rutherford Institute appeals to Ohio SupremeCourt on behalf of science teacher fired for urging students to think critically about evolution”

“District court rules against Freshwater’s appeal”

“Freshwater appeals to 5th District Court”

“County judge rules against Freshwater’s appeal”

“What does MV school board’s statement mean?”

“School board votes 4-1 to fire Freshwater”

“Freshwater’s Closing Arguments: Allegations Unsubstantiated”

See the articles in the archive for additional coverage of the Freshwater controversy.