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.

Thursday, July 12, 2012

The Columbus Dispatch takes a leap of faith, declares evolution a ‘fact’


The Columbus Dispatch editorial writers have been at it again. This time, while writing about the John Freshwater case, they have taken it upon themselves to solve the hotly debated topic of origins.

It turns out, according to the gurus at the Dispatch, that the evolutionists have been right all along. We did evolve from the cosmic ooze.

The Dispatch said, “While there are scientific debates about the specific mechanisms of evolution, evolution itself is a scientific fact.”

In other words, the Dispatch doesn’t have a clue how life got from the first self-replicating molecule to highly complex human beings. It just happened. Believe.

Far be it from me to doubt a Dispatch editorial, especially one with the religious sounding title “Judgment day.”

However, I am having trouble reconciling the Dispatch’s claim that evolution is a scientific fact with the Dispatch’s own definition of science:

“Science, by definition, is the study of natural processes, not supernatural ones. Any theory that invokes supernatural explanations for natural phenomena is not science, it is religion, and therefore is inappropriate in a science class.”

Wouldn’t that mean that evolution is religion?

If the “specific mechanisms” (the natural processes) of evolution are unknown, then evolution has not invoked any explanation. To accept evolution as fact is a “leap of faith.”

That’s so religious of the Dispatch.

Related coverage:

“School Board’s Expert Witness: Debating Is for Politics, Not Science”

“Evolution – Is It More Speculative Philosophy than It Is Science?”

“Shame on The Columbus Dispatch”

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

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Freshwater case could go to U.S. Supreme Court

Bob Kellogg, OneNewsNow, reports that John Freshwater’s case could go to the U.S Supreme Court.

Kellogg quotes John Whitehead, president of The Rutherford Institute, as saying:

"I think this is a case, depending on how the Ohio Supreme Court rules, that could trickle up to the [U.S.] Supreme Court, and there's a possibility the Supreme Court might look at this case depending on the issues," the attorney notes. "So, this may set national precedent."

Read the full article: “Freshwater's case could set national precedent.”