MOUNT VERNON, Ohio— The Rutherford Institute is defending a Christian teacher who was allegedly fired for keeping religious articles in his classroom and for using teaching methods that encourage public school students to think critically about the school’s science curriculum, particularly as it relates to evolution theories. John Freshwater, a 24-year veteran in the classroom, was suspended by the Mount Vernon City School District Board of Education in 2008 and officially terminated in January 2011. The School Board’s resolution claims that Freshwater improperly injected religion into the classroom by giving students “reason to doubt the accuracy and or veracity of scientists, science textbooks and/or science in general.” The Board also claims that he failed to remove “all religious articles” from his classroom, including a Bible.
“The right of public school teachers to academic freedom is the bedrock of American education,” stated John W. Whitehead, president of The Rutherford Institute. “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.”
Throughout his 21-year teaching career at Mount Vernon Middle School, John Freshwater never received a negative performance evaluation. As one reporter noted, “In his evaluations through the 21 years he’s worked for the district, Freshwater has drawn consistent praise for his strong rapport with students, broad knowledge of his subject matter and engaging teaching style.” In fact, during the 2007-2008 school year, Freshwater’s students earned the highest state standardized test scores in science of any eighth grade class in the district. Moreover, according to a federal judge’s findings, Freshwater was the only science teacher at Mount Vernon Middle School who achieved a “passing” score on the Ohio Achievement Test.
However, in June 2008, the Board of Education voted to fire Freshwater, a Christian, 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, who had served as the faculty appointed facilitator, monitor, and supervisor of the Fellowship of Christian Athletes student group for 16 of the 20 years that he taught at Mount Vernon, to remove “all religious items” from his classroom, including a Ten Commandments poster displayed on the door of his classroom, posters with Bible verses, and his personal Bible which he kept on his desk. Freshwater agreed to remove all items except for his Bible. Showing their support for Freshwater, students even organized a rally in his honor. They also wore t-shirts with crosses painted on them to school and carried Bibles to class.
School officials were seemingly unswayed by the outpouring of support for Freshwater. In fact, despite the fact that the Board’s own policy states that because religious traditions vary in their treatment of science, teachers should give unbiased instruction so that students may evaluate it “in accordance with their own religious tenets,” school officials suspended and eventually fired Freshwater, allegedly for criticizing evolution and failing to teach the required science curriculum.
With the help of The Rutherford Institute, Freshwater is appealing his termination in state court, asserting that the school’s actions violated his rights under the First and Fourteenth Amendments to the United States Constitution and constituted religious discrimination under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.
Nisha N. Mohammed is the press contact for the Rutherford Institute, a nonprofit legal and educational civil liberties organization which provides legal assistance at no charge to individuals whose constitutional rights have been threatened or violated.