Here we go again. There's another public school teacher out there inappropriately bringing religion into the classroom. This time it's John Freshwater, a science teacher at Mount Vernon Middle School in Ohio, who's refusing to remove a Bible from his classroom desk.
This isn't an innocent mistake by some blissfully ignorant teacher. The Columbus Dispatch reports Freshwater has a pattern of bringing religion into the classroom.
He was asked last week to remove the Ten Commandments from his classroom (a 1980 U.S. Supreme Court case prohibits their display in public schools) and has taught his students about "intelligent design"-- the latest variant of creationism -- and the alleged "holes in evolution."
Freshwater believes the separation of church and state "is a fraud," his spokesman told the Dispatch. Clearly this science teacher doesn't understand his job or the Constitution.
Mount Vernon Public Schools, on the other hand, does understand the Constitution. The district has not taken this action because it opposes religion, Superintendent Steve Short said in a statement, "but because it has an obligation under the First Amendment of the United States Constitution to protect against the establishment of religion in the schools. As a public school system, the district cannot teach, promote or favor any religion or religious beliefs."
Freshwater is charging the school with viewpoint discrimination.
"Would our government ask a follower of Islam to remove her burqa in order to teach school?" Freshwater asked in a prepared statement. (Yes, because it's really helpful if kids can see their teacher's face.)
"Would we ask a science teacher to remove The Origin of Species from his desk merely because the origin of man has never been proven?" (No, because Darwin's The Origin of Species is a scientific tome.)
These are the kinds of ridiculous statements the Religious Right will throw around to distract us from the issue at hand. They've already anointed Freshwater a martyr who's being "persecuted" for professing his faith.
But public school teachers don't have a First Amendment right to bring religion into the classroom. I wonder if Freshwater knows (or cares) that a federal appeals court unanimously rejected a "free speech" argument similar to his earlier this week.
That case involved a football coach who wanted to bow his head and "take a knee" while his players prayed. Just like Freshwater, that coach had a long history of endorsing religion in the presence of students. Not only did a district-wide policy prohibiting such behavior not violate the teacher's rights, the court ruled, its implementation was necessary to avoid a church-state violation.
Mount Vernon's request that Freshwater remove the Bible from students' view is also reasonable and necessary. Every student is a valued member of their school community, and their religious beliefs, or lack thereof, should never be used to separate them from their teachers and peers. An educator, of all professionals, should understand that.