Courting Confusion: Why Is The Ohio Supreme Court Hearing A Creationist Teacher’s Case?

Local taxpayers have already spent $900,000 on this mess because Freshwater thinks he is above his bosses and the law.

A middle school science teacher who was fired in January 2011 is set to have his case reviewed by the Ohio Supreme Court even though he not only taught creationism, but also was accused of branding a student with a cross.

John Freshwater was an eighth-grade science teacher in Mount Vernon, Ohio. In 2003, Freshwater asked the school board to allow him to teach creationism and “intelligent design.” Board members rightly refused, but Freshwater did it anyway.

The teacher tried to go about his creationism crusade on the down low. For example, he handed out creationist material in class, which he always collected and refused to let students take home, and he passed out surveys to students, asking them if religion was important to them.

In the end, it was Freshwater’s zeal for proselytizing that got him fired. He was accused of using an electronic device (a Tesla coil) to burn a cross into a student’s arm. The boy’s parents complained to school officials, the matter went to court and a judgment and financial settlement came down in favor of the student and his family.

The school board launched a full investigation into Freshwater’s activities. R. Lee Shepherd, a hearing officer hired by the Ohio Department of Education, determined that Freshwater “overtly and covertly” taught creationism.

“It is not determined whether any one of the bases/grounds for consideration of termination would be sufficient in and of itself; however, the multiple incidents which gave rise to the numerous and various bases/grounds more than suffice in support of termination….,” Shepherd wrote.

Two lower courts have already sided with the school board, yet for some reason the Ohio Supreme Court thinks Freshwater’s case is worthy of review.

According to the Columbus Dispatch, R. Kelly Hamilton, Freshwater’s attorney, said, “This Court must intervene if students and teachers in America's public schools are to remain free to engage in open, respectful dialogue about competing academic theories and their respective merits. Nowhere is such freedom more crucial than in a science classroom, where the asking and answering of questions is the very basis of the universally acknowledged ‘scientific method.’”

Hamilton is way off base. First, no teacher who is blatantly insubordinate or who brands a student should be employed at any school. Second, Freshwater has no right to teach creationism in schools, as the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in Edwards v. Aguillard in 1987.

Local taxpayers have already spent $900,000 on this mess because Freshwater thinks he is above his bosses and the law. Adding new expenses onto that staggering bill isn’t helping anyone, and if the state supreme court somehow sides with Freshwater, there’s a good chance this case will end up in federal court.

Thanks to the Ohio Supreme Court’s inexplicable decision, even more time and money will be wasted on a case that is clear cut. Hopefully the court has a very good reason for taking up this matter – I know I’ll be interested to hear what it is.