Supreme Court sticks fork in John Freshwater dismissal case

JISHOU, HUNAN — Seven years! This case has been dragging on for seven years, and now maybe we will never need to read about John Freshwater in the news again. His last chance to have the courts reinstate him as a science teacher in Ohio ended in defeat this week.

The US Supreme Court has let stand a lower court decision that Freshwater’s former employers, the Mount Vernon, Ohio, school district, had cause to fire him for insubordination for refusing to remove religious materials from his classroom.

Freshwater’s lawyers argued that the district had infringed his First Amendment rights, and wanted to Court to hear their case. The Justices were apparently unimpressed with this argument, and denied his writ of certiorari — basically, a request that the Court hear his appeal..

Freshwater was a seventh-grade science teacher who had a few bad practices. Judging from the testimony of former students and co-workers during a lengthy administrative hearing, he had a long history of teaching Creationism in his class, leading his students to doubt the validity of evolution and the Big Bang theory, and pushing his conservative Christian faith in class. Unsaid and unexamined was the district’s seeming tolerance of this unprofessional and unconstitutional behavior.

Then Freshwater called wider attention to himself when he used an electrical device commonly called a Tesla coil to burn a cross — Freshwater testified it was an X — on the forearm of a student in late 2007. The student and his parents later claimed the burn was quite painful, and sued Freshwater and the school in 2008. Pretty soon, the press got wind of it.

Within days, Freshwater went from being an obscure, small-town science teacher to a media figure. A wider audience heard about his mixing of religion and science instruction, and Freshwater was soon in hot water, as school officials could no longer sweep his behavior under the proverbial rug.

He was told to ditch the Bibles and religious posters in his classroom, and to stick to the state-approved science curriculum. Freshwater refused, and lost his job.

He demanded an administrative hearing, which went on for months. He lost. He took his case to court. He lost. He took it to the Ohio Supreme Court. He lost.

A pattern had developed.

Despite that, Freshwater appealed to the US Supreme Court. He lost.

I’ve been covering this case since its beginning in 2007. Here’s a more detailed summary of it, after his loss last year in the state supreme court. Richard B. Hoppe at Panda’s Thumb has followed it even more closely. If you want even more detail, you can read his dispatches there. The National Center for Science Education also has a good summary.

Goodbye, John Freshwater. I hope I never need to blog about you again.

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