Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Press release: Ohio Supreme Court affirms science teacher’s right to keep personal Bible on desk, sidesteps issue of academic freedom in firing over evolution lessons

The following press release was provided by The Rutherford Institute:

COLUMBUS, Ohio—In a mixed ruling that affirms the First Amendment right of a public school teacher to keep a personal Bible on his desk, while sidestepping larger questions of academic freedom, the Ohio Supreme Court has upheld a school district’s decision to terminate a middle school science teacher who encouraged students to think critically about the school’s science curriculum, particularly as it relates to evolution theories, on the grounds that there was sufficient evidence to support the school’s charge of “insubordination” against the teacher.

The 4-3 decision in Freshwater v. Mt. Vernon City School Dist. Bd. Of Edn. upheld the termination of John Freshwater, a Christian with a 20-year teaching career at Mount Vernon Middle School, despite a vocal dissent defending Freshwater’s right to academic freedom and insisting that his teaching methods are protected by the Constitution. The majority based their ruling of insubordination on the fact that Freshwater failed to remove from his classroom a poster depicting George Bush and Colin Powell, which he got from the school’s office and an Oxford Bible, and a book titled Jesus of Nazareth, both of which he checked out from the school library.

In coming to Freshwater’s defense after he was discharged in January 2011, Rutherford Institute attorneys argued that where a teacher’s speech is in compliance with all Board policies and directly relates to the prescribed curriculum, the school should not be permitted to terminate the teacher’s employment as a means of censoring a particular academic viewpoint from the classroom. Institute attorneys plan to file a motion to ask the Ohio Supreme Court to reconsider their opinion in order to focus on the constitutional issues at the heart of the case, particularly as they relate to academic freedom in the classroom.

“School officials should stop talking about the need for young people to learn about the Constitution and start putting those principles into practice by creating a robust environment in the classroom where free speech can flourish and thrive,” stated John W. Whitehead, president of The Rutherford Institute. “It’s our hope that the Ohio Supreme Court will send a strong message to the nation’s schools that the First Amendment protects both teachers and students, no matter how controversial or politically incorrect the topic under discussion.”

In June 2008, the Mount Vernon City School District Board of Education voted to suspend John Freshwater, a Christian with a 20-year teaching career at Mount Vernon Middle School, citing concerns about his conduct and teaching materials, particularly as they related to the teaching of evolution. Earlier that year, school officials reportedly ordered Freshwater to remove “all religious items” from his classroom, including a Ten Commandments poster displayed on the door of his classroom, a patriotic poster of Bush and Powell with a Bible verse, and his personal Bible which he kept on his desk. Nevertheless, school officials suspended and eventually fired Freshwater, allegedly for criticizing evolution and using unapproved materials to facilitate classroom discussion of origins of life theories.

A Common Pleas judge upheld the School Board’s decision, as did the Fifth District Court of Appeals, without analyzing Freshwater’s constitutional claims to academic freedom. Likewise, the Ohio Supreme Court sidestepped the question as to whether Freshwater has a First Amendment right to include materials critical of evolution in his class. However, the Court did rule that Freshwater was not insubordinate for failing to remove his personal Bible from his desk because he was entitled to keep the Bible under the First Amendment’s guarantee to free exercise of religion. Affiliate attorney Rita Dunaway is assisting The Rutherford Institute with Freshwater’s defense.

Additional information

Freshwater v. Mt. Vernon City School Dist. Bd. of Edn.,  Slip Opinion No. 2013-Ohio-5000 (PDF)

“Supreme Court upholds firing of Freshwater in religious-symbols case”  by Darrel Rowland, The Columbus Dispatch

“Court: Freshwater’s termination valid” by Pamela Schehl, Mount Vernon News

Previous coverage

“Document dump: School board and cohorts file briefs in Freshwater case”

“Freshwater responds to school board’s arguments”

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

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Meet the school board candidates Oct 1

There will be an opportunity to meet the candidates for the Mount Vernon Board of Education on October 1 at the Mount Vernon High School Theater at 6:30 p.m.

This event is sponsored by the Ohio Association of Public School Employees and the Mount Vernon Education Association.

For more information, see the KnoxPages article “Candidates night slated for Mount Vernon school board hopefuls.”

The following are the candidates running for the two open seats:

Mary Rugola-Dye

Daniel Hamman

Stephen L. Thompson (incumbent)

Information regarding Rugola-Dye’s candidacy can be found at www.friendsofrugoladye.org.

Also, see here and here for video of Rugola-Dye’s remarks as an audience member during a meet the candidates night in 2011.


For coverage of the event, see the Mount Vernon News article “Candidates discuss views for Mount Vernon schools.”


The following are the results for the school board race (there were two open seats on the board):

Stephen L. Thompson 2,874   (39.19%)

Mary C. Rugola-Dye  2,770   (37.77%)

Daniel Hamman 1,689   (23.03%)

The election results are from the Knox County Board of Elections summary report of 8:18 p.m. Nov. 5, 2013.

Friday, June 28, 2013

Podcast: TRI attorney discusses Freshwater case

The following is from a June 24, 2013 post by IDTheFuture.com:

 “On this episode of ID The Future, listen in as Joshua Youngkin and attorney Rita Dunaway of The Rutherford Institute discuss the academic freedom case of John Freshwater, an Ohio middle school science teacher of 24 years. Freshwater was fired after it was revealed that he was teaching both the strengths and weaknesses of Darwinian evolution in his classroom.”