In a ruling that will no doubt shock and enrage Christian fundamentalists everywhere, the Ohio Supreme Court has confirmed once again that even Christians have to obey the laws of the land. This will almost certainly be presented as a war on Christianity and a denial of their 'freedom' to disregard laws they don't like whilst demanding the right to impose their own 'laws' on everyone else.
The ruling brings to an end a four-year campaign to have a fundamentalist Christian creationist teacher, sacked for disregarding instructions not to teach his superstition as fact to public school children in contravention of the US Constitution's 'Establishment' clause, reinstated and to be allowed to continue to flout the law, ignore the Constitution and use his salaried position to teach his creationist version of 'science' to school children.
In a 4:3 verdict, the court ruled:
After detailed review of the voluminous record in this case, we hold that the court of appeals did not err in affirming the termination. The trial court properly found that the record supports, by clear and convincing evidence, Freshwater’s termination for insubordination in failing to comply with orders to remove religious materials from his classroom. Accordingly, based on our resolution of this threshold issue, we need not reach the constitutional issue of whether Freshwater impermissibly imposed his religious beliefs in his classroom. We affirm the judgment of the court of appeals because there was ample evidence of insubordination to justify the termination decision.
The background to the case was the behaviour of a public school teacher, John Freshwater, a teacher employed by the Mount Vernon City School District Board of Education, and his subsequent dismissal for insubordination for refusing to comply with instructs to stop promoting his fundamentalist Christian beliefs in the classroom. He had been dismissed in 2008 on a unanimous vote of the 5 person board.
As a science teacher engaged to teach eighth-grade science he had preached Creationism, given out “Answers in Genesis” flyers and urged students to attend a presentation by them, put a Bible on his desk during class even after being told to stop, displayed the Ten Commandments in the classroom, given extra credit to students for watching the pro-Intelligent Design movie 'Expelled', and branded a student on the arm with a cross using a Tesla coil.
In it's submission to the court, the Board of Education had said:
...that despite the district’s instructions to cease doing so, Freshwater unequivocally injected his own Christian faith into his classroom as early as 1994 and continued to do so right up until he was relieved of his teaching duties. The board also asserts that after it denied Freshwater’s 2003 teaching proposal to critically evaluate evolution, Freshwater surreptitiously supplemented his eighth-grade science curriculum with religious handouts, showed videos on creationism and intelligent design, displayed religious materials in his classroom, and made various statements class referring to the Bible.
Freshwater had argued that:
...the board violated his right to academic freedom pursuant to the First Amendment to the United States Constitution when it terminated him based on the content or viewpoint of his curriculum-related academic discussions with students and his use of supplemental academic materials.
The court dismissed that on the grounds that there was a clear case for dismissal on the grounds of insubordination alone, so constitutional issues did not need to be considered. The three dissenting judges dissented on the grounds that the school board had not sufficiently establish insubordination and in one case that the right to academic freedom included the right to deviate from the curriculum on the acquisition of new knowledge from their own learning process.
The surprising thing is that this even came to court. Had it not been for Freshwater's conviction that his religious beliefs entitled him to exemption not only from his terms and conditions of employment but from the need to comply with the US constitutional prohibition on promoting religion in schools financed by public money, this would have been a simple, incontestable dismissal of a teacher refusing to teach the curriculum he was employed to teach and behave in a manner his employer required of him.
Freshwater's argument that the First Amendment right to free speech entitled him to act as a recruiting sergeant for Christian fundamentalism and to teach mythology as science, while taking the salary of a science teacher is all too typical of the sense of entitlement many Christian have. They even feel persecuted by not being allowed these privileges, not being granted the right to impose their superstition on other and not being allowed to use public money to finance it.
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