The Ohio Supreme Court ruled 4-3 in support of the firing of an Ohio science teacher for insubordination because he refused to remove “religious materials” from his classroom, including posters of President George Bush and Colin Powell praying.
The court upheld the Mount Vernon school district’s right to order him not to “engage in any activity that promotes or denigrates a particular religion or religious beliefs while on board property, during any school activity.”
Although three justices dissented, Ohio’s highest court upheld that the Mount Vernon district had legal rights to terminate John Freshwater for insubordination. The court did rule, however, that John Freshwater keeping his personal Bible in the classroom was within his First Amendment rights. The decision made no reference to whether or not Freshwater tried to teach his religious beliefs.
Chief Justice Maureen O’Connor put forth the majority opinion:
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.
One of the dissenting judges, Justice Terrence O’Donnell, found there was not enough evidence to support the insubordination charge. He also said O’Donnell was indeed singled out for challenging students to think critically about the limits of science and to allow his class to discuss intelligent design concepts while teaching an evolutionary curriculum.
O’Donnell, in his dissenting statement, said, “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.”
O’Donnell continued, saying Freshwater was a top teacher and was the only teacher in the state to have 75% of his students pass the Ohio Achievement Test science portion. Moreover, he went on to cite that 89% of his student’s passed the life science section which required comprehension of evolutionary theory.
Another dissenting judge, Paul E. Pfeifer, noted that the Bush-Powell poster also adorned the walls of other classrooms within the school. What’s more, one of the books the school had asked Freshwater to remove from his classroom, Jesus of Nazareth, had been obtained from the school library.