The Ohio Supreme Court has upheld the firing of a Christian public school teacher who was terminated after he allegedly criticized evolution and refused to remove religious messages and books from his classroom.
The court determined on Tuesday that Mount Vernon City School District was justified in firing John Freshwater, a former middle school science teacher in Mount Vernon, Ohio, who was let go after being accused of insubordination, The Associated Press reported.
Ohio public school science teacher John Freshwater. (Credit: AP Photo/The Columbus Dispatch, Tom Dodge, File)
In an interesting twist, the judges did find one element of supper for Freshwater in noting that the district infringed upon the former teacher's free speech by ordering that he remove a personal Bible from his classroom desk.
That said, the teacher's decision to keep other items in the classroom despite warnings to remove them was deemed insubordination.
Freshwater, who is represented by the Rutherford Institute, a conservative legal firm, has fought against these charges since he was first suspended by the school board in 2008.
The legal group provides a background of the events that purportedly led to the firing:
In June 2008, the Mount Vernon City School District Board of Education voted to suspend John Freshwater, a Christian with a 20-year teaching career at Mount Vernon Middle School, citing concerns about his conduct and teaching materials, particularly as they related to the teaching of evolution.
Earlier that year, school officials reportedly ordered Freshwater to remove “all religious items” from his classroom, including a Ten Commandments poster displayed on the door of his classroom, a patriotic poster of Bush and Powell with a Bible verse, and his personal Bible which he kept on his desk. Nevertheless, school officials suspended and eventually fired Freshwater, allegedly for criticizing evolution and using unapproved materials to facilitate classroom discussion of origins of life theories.
TheBlaze has been covering Freshwater's case since Oct. 2011 when Knox County Common Pleas Judge Otho Eyster also found that the school board was in proper standing in dismissing the science teacher. The Supreme Court is now the third legal body to rule against Freshwater.
What was not grappled with in the Ohio Supreme Court case, however, was the issue of academic freedom and whether Freshwater injected his religious views into the classroom, particularly elements pertaining to creationism and intelligent design.
Freshwater first went to the school board in 2008 to defend himself against these claims:
The teachers attorneys argued that Freshwater was unfairly discharged in 2011 and that the school should not have terminated him in an effort to crack down on his viewpoints in the classroom.
Since the Ohio Supreme Court didn't tackle the academic freedom issues associated with the case, the Rutherford Institute is planning to ask for a reconsideration of the Ohio Supreme Court opinion in an effort to urge the judges to explore these sensitive areas.
"School officials should stop talking about the need for young people to learn about the Constitution and start putting those principles into practice by creating a robust environment in the classroom where free speech can flourish and thrive," John W. Whitehead, president of The Rutherford Institute, said in a statement.
He added, "It’s our hope that the Ohio Supreme Court will send a strong message to the nation’s schools that the First Amendment protects both teachers and students, no matter how controversial or politically incorrect the topic under discussion."
As the AP reported, a lawyer for the school board accused Freshwater of waving a Bible at students, giving out religious pamphlets. The other perceived church-state violations surrounded alleged discussions about creationism with students.
"Freshwater is fully entitled to an ardent faith in Jesus Christ and to interpret Biblical passages according to his faith. But he was not entitled to ignore direct, lawful edicts of his superiors while in the workplace," wrote Chief Justice Maureen O'Connor in the prevailing opinion.
Three of the seven judges disagreed with the majority, though, and felt the evidence did not validate Freshwater's citing.
See the former teacher again defend himself in 2010:
What will happen next is not yet known, however TheBlaze has reached out to the Rutherford Institute to learn more about Freshwater's future plans.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.