Ohio Court Upholds Firing of School Teacher Fired for Christian Religious Views

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The Ohio Supreme Court upheld the 2011 firing of school teacher John Freshwater saying that his insistence in keeping Christian symbols in his classroom somehow violated the U.S. Constitution.

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The story began all the way back in 2008 when Ohio’s Mount Vernon City Schools began the process of firing science teacher Freshwater because he had religious symbols like his personal Bible in the classroom.

Ohio science teacher John Freshwater and supporters.

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The school system maintained that he was “violating” the Constitution by having Christian symbols in his public school classroom.

There was also a false report that he used heated tools to “brand” crosses onto the arms of some students. This charge was dropped years later.

Eventually the school system fired the teacher because he refused to remove the religious symbols including his personal Bible which he kept on his desk.

Now the Ohio Supreme Court is upholding that firing.

Freshwater takes his case to court.

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“The district simply stated what the law, and the First Amendment, commands,” Chief Justice Maureen O’Connor wrote in the court’s decision.

There is nothing in the First Amendment that says a teacher must remove all vestiges of religion from his classroom, of course. This is an extremist, left-wing view that the Supreme Court of the US has essentially denied. The First Amendment, after all, says freedom OF religion, not freedom FROM religion.

Teachers have the right to display religious symbols as long as they aren’t requiring students to participate in religious activities.

Regardless, the Ohio Supreme Court claims that Mr. Freshwater violated the Constitution and, therefore, the District’s orders to remove the symbols was lawful and his firing for “insubordination” was justified.

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Justice O’Connor wrote:

“Freshwater’s First Amendment rights did not protect the display of these items, because they were not a part of his exercise of his religion. Freshwater’s willful disobedience of these direct orders demonstrates blatant insubordination. That insubordination is established by clear and convincing evidence, and the record fully supports the board’s decision to terminate him on these grounds.”

The Chief Justice did, however, scold the school system for demanding that the teacher remove his own Bible from his desk. That, the justice said, did violate the teacher’s freedom of religion and the school had no right to make that demand.

In his dissenting opinion, Justice Terrence O’Donnell said he found insufficient evidence for insubordination by Freshwater. O’Donnell said the case involves “a veteran science teacher singled out by the Mt. Vernon City School District Board of Education because of his willingness to challenge students in his science classes to think critically about evolutionary theory and to permit them to discuss intelligent design and to debate creationism in connection with the presentation of the prescribed curriculum on evolution.”

“Freshwater permitted his students to raise these questions and also to debate among themselves evolution, intelligent design, and creationism, but he did not participate in those debates. Further, the evidence vindicates Freshwater’s teaching methods because it demonstrates that his students learned evolutionary theory as mandated by the official curriculum. … [O]nly Freshwater exceeded the state goal of 75 percent of his students passing the science portion of the Ohio Achievement Test. Even more striking is the fact that 89 percent of his students passed the life science section, which assessed, among other topics, students’ knowledge of evolutionary theory.””

There are quite a few more details well handled in an article by the Columbus Dispatch so if you are interested go read their long treatment of the case.

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Suffice to say, the majority is simply wrong on the matter.

There are quite a few more details well handled in an article at the Columbus Dispatch so if you are interested go read their long treatment of the case.

Suffice to say, the majority is simply wrong on the matter.

For those of you who get confused by this somewhat mythical “wall of separation of church and state,” several years ago I wrote a treatment of the issue titled, “Does ‘Separation of Church and State’ Really Exist?.” This ended up being an article in a college textbook, interestingly enough.

Well, tell us what you think. Is this court wrong?

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