Ohio judge upholds firing of teacher accused of pushing religion
COLUMBUS, Ohio — A judge has upheld the firing of a central Ohio public school science teacher who was accused of preaching religious beliefs in class and of keeping a Bible on his desk.
Knox County Common Pleas Judge Otho Eyster said in his two-page Oct. 5 ruling that he found clear and convincing evidence that the Mount Vernon school board was right in dismissing John Freshwater early this year.
A request by the former Mount Vernon Middle School teacher for Eyster to conduct additional hearings “is not well taken,” the judge wrote.
The school board in the community about 40 miles northeast of Columbus first tried to dismiss Freshwater in 2008 after investigators reported that he preached Christian beliefs in class when discussing topics such as evolution and homosexuality, and was insubordinate in failing to remove a Bible from his classroom.
Freshwater appealed to an outside referee, a state hearing officer, utilizing a right of teachers facing firing in Ohio. The hearing officer recommended in January that Freshwater’s contract be terminated, and the school board formally fired him within days.
Judge Eyster noted in his ruling that he reviewed the 6,344 pages of transcript and approximately 350 exhibits from the referee’s hearing.
Freshwater also was accused of using a science tool to burn students’ arms with the image of a cross, but that allegation was resolved and not a factor in his firing.
Freshwater said yesterday that he was considering his next step.
“At this time I am reviewing all of my options and speaking with (the) Rutherford Institute and my personal attorneys,” he said in an e-mail to the Associated Press.
The Rutherford Institute is a Charlottesville, Virginia-based civil liberties group which has been involved in the case. Attorney and institute President John Whitehead said Freshwater has 30 days to file an appeal and said his group is ready to move in that direction.
“The lower courts are very difficult to get by because they do uphold local school boards almost unanimously,” Whitehead said. “We’ll have a better chance in an appeals court which will have more distance away from the school board and the local community.”
An attorney for the school board said she had no comment.