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Freshwater appeals again

John Freshwater, the middle school science teacher in Mount Vernon, Ohio, who was fired over his inappropriate religious activity in the classroom — including teaching creationism — is now taking his case to the Ohio Supreme Court. 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. (The lawsuit against Freshwater was settled in the meantime.)

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 decision to Ohio's Fifth District Court of Appeals in December 2011. NCSE filed a friend-of-the-court brief (PDF) with the appellate court, arguing that Freshwater's materials and methods concerning evolution "have no basis in science and serve no pedagogical purpose." (NCSE's amicus curiae brief was prepared pro bono by attorneys from Willkie Farr & Gallagher LLP and Calfee, Halter & Griswold LLP.) In March 2012, the Fifth District Court of Appeals upheld (PDF) the lower court's rejection of Freshwater's challenge.

With respect to his teaching of creationism, Freshwater's latest brief alleges (PDF), "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," argues, "[t]he fact that one competing theory on the formation of the universe and the beginning of life is consistent with the teachings of multiple major world religions simply does not justify interference with students' and teachers' academic freedom," and accuses the board's action of manifesting "a clear and distinct hostility toward the major world religions whose teachings are consistent with the alternative theories discussed in Freshwater's classes ... [which] runs directly afoul of the First Amendment's Establishment Clause."