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Freshwater appeal to be heard

The Ohio Supreme Court will hear the appeal of 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. The Associated Press (July 5, 2012) summarized, "The court said Freshwater can argue that it is unconstitutional to fire someone without clear guidance on what teaching materials or methods are acceptable. Freshwater also can argue that it is unconstitutional to fire someone over the mere presence of a religious text like the Bible in the classroom."

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. When the challenge was unsuccessful, he 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." In March 2012, the Fifth District Court of Appeals upheld the lower court's rejection of Freshwater's challenge. Freshwater then appealed that decision to the Ohio Supreme Court in April 2012.

Documents relevant to Freshwater's termination and the subsequent court case are available on NCSE's website. Extensive blog coverage of the Freshwater saga, including Richard B. Hoppe's day-by-day account of Freshwater's termination hearing, is available at The Panda's Thumb blog; search for "Freshwater". Hoppe also recently contributed "Dover Comes to Ohio" (PDF) — a detailed account from a local observer of the whole fracas, from the precipitating incident to Freshwater's appeal — to Reports of the National Center for Science Education 32:1.