By Tim Peacock
The Ohio Supreme Court began hearing arguments yesterday in the case of former educator John Freshwater's 2011 dismissal due to violating the wall of separation between church and state in the classroom. Attorneys for the school board argued that Freshwater "waved a Bible at his students, handed out religious pamphlets and espoused creationism in his evolution lessons."
Even worse, Freshwater allegedly "used a high-frequency generator, which other teachers have used to demonstrate electrical current, to burn a cross onto a student's arm. The cross lasted a few weeks." The student's family settled out of court so public arguments were never heard. Despite the settlement and the district averting a public relations nightmare, the board still figured Freshwater's offense into their decision to terminate him.
In addition to these offenses, the school board's attorneys are also arguing that Freshwater:
- Distributed a handout titled "Survival of the Fakest" to teach his students to doubt science
- Distributed an "Answers in Genesis" pamphlet, which contained information about a creationist organization's seminar
- Refused to remove the Bible from his classroom after being repeatedly told to remove it from lessons
- Preached Christian beliefs in class when discussing topics such as evolution and homosexuality
Despite the school board securing two previous victories against the arm-burning, anti-evolution Freshwater, things started off rocky as arguments began in front of the justices. According to CBS News:
Justices appeared perplexed, at times irritated, about what lawyers believed was the legal issue before them. Justice Paul Pfeifer was incredulous when Smith argued that Freshwater's evolution class wouldn't have been covered under the school district's controversial-issues policy. "So there's nothing controversial about evolution," he said. "It is a theory, isn't it?"
And this is why we need real scientists in schools and on governmental science committees. Fundamental education deficiencies like this aren't an aberration; entirely too many people are clueless what a scientific theory is (versus the definition of the non-scientific "theory" that shares the same name).
And let's put aside the student assault for a moment - that's just...words cannot describe the number of things I'd do if that were my child. I'd rather lose every penny I had and drag the ex-teacher's name through the mud for harming my child rather than settle out of court (that's just me though). Let's examine the arguments being presented by the ex-teacher's counsel.
Freshwater freely admits he inserted Christian teachings into the classroom as a way of "poking holes" in evolution. (It's amazing how creationists revel at pointing out holes in the extensive fossil record as evidence against evolution while simultaneously failing to provide a single shred of tangible, scientifically-verifiable evidence to prove their own point. It's even more amazing that they see no hypocrisy in their double standard.) I have to wonder: did Freshwater offer other religious creation myths in his class to meet the Constitutional standard the establishment clause requires? For instance, did he discuss:
- The Hindu creation story?
- The Buddhism cycle story?
- Any of the multiple Native American creation stories?
I think you get the point. If Freshwater really did intend to insert perspective into the scientific discussion (in offering a cultural perspective in science class - which is also problematic), he should have presented more than just Christian/Bible-based ideology.
As the two prior courts already decided and the Ohio Supreme Court should decide, Freshwater wasn't really trying to open minds. He wasn't trying to do his hired job in teaching actual scientific theory, hypothesis testing, and the other tangible, evidence-based teachings that go along with science education. He was only interested in prosthelytizing. Time will tell if the Ohio Supreme Court upholds those two lower court decisions.