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NCSE files amicus in Freshwater appeal

By providing a friend-of-the-court brief (PDF) to Ohio's Supreme Court on October 4, 2012, NCSE is again supporting a local school district that fired a middle school science teacher over his inappropriate religious activity in the classroom — including teaching creationism. The case is John Freshwater v. Mount Vernon City School District Board of Education; NCSE's amicus curiae brief was prepared by pro bono counsel Richard Mancino, Samuel M. Leaf, and Anthony Juzaitis of Willkie Farr & Gallagher LLP and Christopher S. Williams, Colleen M. O'Neil, Jeffrey J. Lauderdale, and Trevor Alexander of Calfee, Halter & Griswold LLP.

In 2008, a local family accused Freshwater, a Mount Vernon, Ohio, middle school science teacher, of engaging in inappropriate religious activity and sued Freshwater and the district. Based on the results of an independent investigation, the Mount Vernon City School Board voted to begin proceedings to terminate his employment. After thorough administrative hearings that proceeded over two years and involved more than eighty witnesses, the presiding referee issued his recommendation that the board terminate Freshwater's employment with the district, and the board voted to do so in January 2011. (The family’s 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 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 to the Ohio Supreme Court.

NCSE's brief to the Ohio Supreme Court argues that "[t]eaching materials and methods that advance creationism and undermine students' understanding of the scientific theory of evolution serve no pedagogical or scientific purpose and, as a result, the termination of a public school science teacher for teaching creationism was proper," explaining that "Freshwater's pedagogy serves no legitimate educational purpose in a public school science class, is scientifically unsound, and serves 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."

Also filed with the Ohio Supreme Court on the same date (October 4, 2012) were the Mount Vernon City School District Board of Education's merit brief, responding to Freshwater's merit brief, and three additional friend of the court briefs, from Jenifer Dennis and Stephen Dennis, the parents whose complaints about Freshwater's religious advocacy in the classroom prompted the investigation that led to his dismissal; Americans United for Separation of Church and State and the Anti-Defamation League; and the American Humanist Association and the Secular Student Alliance.

All these briefs and additional 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.