Teacher Insubordinate; Except for Bible

The Ohio Supreme Court has upheld the dismissal of an eighth grade science teacher who was accused of insubordination because he refused to stop injecting his Christian faith into classroom instruction.

However, Ohio’s top court ruled that teacher John Freshwater had a First Amendment right to keep his personal bible on his desk and his failure to remove the bible was not insubordination. The court noted the school district was afraid that that allowing a teacher to keep a bible on his desk would violate the separation of church and state. “The district feared an Establishment Clause violation where none existed. Unsubstantiated fear alone cannot justify flouting the First Amendment,” wrote the court.

Dating back at least a decade, Freshwater refused to follow the Mount Vernon school district’s approved curriculum with respect to evolution.  Specifically, he refused to stop teaching creationism or intelligent design and the unreliability of carbon dating as reasons to support opposing evolution.

He also refused orders to remove a collage of the Ten Commandments and posters of former President George W. Bush and Colin Powell engaged in prayer. Freshwater taught that homosexuality is a sin. He distributed religious handouts to students, such as “Darwin’s Theory of Evolution—The Premise and the Problem”  from “All About God Ministries.”

The district was sued after Freshwater allegedly used a Tesla Coil electrostatic machine to make the mark of a cross on a student’s arm in 2007.

The Mount Vernon City School District Board of Education terminated Freshwater in 2011 for insubordination in violation of a state statute.

The Ohio Supreme Court concluded that “Freshwater not only ignored the school district’s directive, he defied it. After he was directed to remove the items, Freshwater deliberately added to them, incorporating the Oxford Bible and Jesus of Nazareth into the classroom,” The court notes  that 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.”

Because there was “ample evidence of insubordination” to justify Freshwater’s dismissal, the court said it was not required to address Freshwater’s argument the school board violated his right to academic freedom pursuant to the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.