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NCSE files amicus in Freshwater case

By providing a friend of the court brief (PDF) to Ohio's Fifth District Court of Appeals on January 10, 2012, NCSE is supporting a local school district that fired a middle school science teacher over his inappropriate religious activity in the classroom — including teaching creationism. NCSE's brief argues that the teacher's materials and methods concerning evolution "have no basis in science and serve no pedagogical purpose." The case is John Freshwater v. Mount Vernon City School District Board of Education; NCSE's amicus curiae brief was prepared pro bono by Richard Mancino, Samuel M. Leaf, and Anthony Juzaitis of Willkie Farr & Gallagher LLP and Christopher S. Williams, Colleen M. O'Neil, and Jeffrey J. Lauderdale of Calfee, Halter & Griswold LLP.

In 2008, a local family accused Freshwater of engaging in inappropriate religious activity and sued Freshwater and the district. The Mount Vernon City School Board then voted to begin proceedings to terminate his employment. After thorough administrative hearings that proceeded over two years and involved more than eighty witnesses, the referee presiding over the hearings issued his recommendation that the board terminate Freshwater's employment with the district, and the board voted to do so in January 2011. Freshwater challenged his termination in the Knox County Court of Common Pleas in February 2011, but the court found "there is clear and convincing evidence to support the Board of Education's termination of Freshwater's contract(s) for good and just cause."

Freshwater then appealed the court's decision to the Fifth District Court of Appeals. With respect to his teaching of creationism, his appeal brief argued, "Freshwater sought to encourage his students to differentiate between facts and theories, and to identify and discuss instances where textbook statements were subject to intellectual and scientific debate," claimed, "his encouraging students to think critically about scientific theories ... cannot be rendered illegal based solely on the presumption that Freshwater's personal beliefs happen to align with one of the competing theories considered," and accused the board's actions of constituting "an outright hostility to religion that ... violates the Establishment Clause."

NCSE's brief addresses "[w]hether there is any pedagogical or scientific merit in John Freshwater's teaching of 'alternative theories' to evolution, including theories that are 'consistent' [as Freshwater's appeal brief described them] with Christian religious beliefs, and whether there is pedagogical or scientific merit in his specific approach to 'encouraging students to think critically' about evolution" and argues that Freshwater's "materials and methods serve no legitimate pedagogical purpose in a public school science class, are scientifically unsound, and serve only impermissibly to advance a sectarian purpose, namely to teach creationism in its traditional version of creation science or its modern incarnation of intelligent design."