COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) – A public school district was legally justified in firing a science instructor who refused to remove religious materials from his classroom, a divided Ohio Supreme Court said Tuesday in a ruling that stopped short of addressing issues the case raised about the teaching of creationism and intelligent design.
With three justices dissenting, the court ruled the Mount Vernon district had grounds to fire John Freshwater in 2011 for insubordination for keeping religious books and a poster of a praying president.
“Freshwater is fully entitled to an ardent faith in Jesus Christ and to interpret Biblical passages according to his faith. But he was not entitled to ignore direct, lawful edicts of his superiors while in the workplace,” Chief Justice Maureen O’Connor wrote in the lead opinion, which affirmed lower court rulings.
Freshwater’s Virginia-based attorney, Rita Dunaway, said she was disappointed but couldn’t comment further because she hadn’t talked with Freshwater about the decision or possible next steps.
The court concluded the district infringed on Freshwater’s First Amendment rights by ordering the removal of his personal Bible from his desk but found he was insubordinate for keeping other items that were not part of his exercise of religion.
The dissenting justices contended the evidence did not support the firing. Keeping the poster, which was distributed by the school, and the other books, which were borrowed from the library, didn’t amount to insubordination, said Justice Paul Pfeifer, whose separate dissenting opinion chided the court for not addressing remaining constitutional issues in the case.
“Instead, the majority walks away from the opportunity to provide helpful guidance to every school board in Ohio and to the thousands of great teachers who could benefit from knowing more about the extent of and limits on their academic freedom,” he wrote.
The lead opinion said the court didn’t need to address the extent to which Freshwater had the right to push his religious beliefs in class because the insubordination alone was enough to justify his firing.
A lawyer for the school board had said Freshwater waved a Bible at his students, distributed religious pamphlets and talked about creationism in evolution lessons, violating the constitutional separation between church and state. Messages were left Tuesday for the superintendent and attorneys for the school district, about 40 miles northeast of Columbus.
Dunaway had argued that accounts of Freshwater’s conduct were exaggerated and that he was exercising academic freedom to explore controversial ideas.
Freshwater was dismissed after investigators reported he preached Christian beliefs in class when discussing topics such as evolution and homosexuality and didn’t remove religious materials as ordered. He also was accused of using a science tool to burn students’ arms with the image of a cross, but that allegation was resolved and wasn’t listed as a factor in his firing.
(Copyright 2013 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)
- Stretches and exercises for carpal tunnel syndrome
- The best Major League ballparks have their own personality
- Comparing the best regular seasons: The '96 Bulls and '16 Warriors
- 3 Arizona road trips and the vehicles to get you there
- Colon cancer is preventable. Check these signs and symptoms to stay healthy.
- 6 of the biggest skin cancer myths
- Affordable small home makeover ideas
- Locals helping locals: 6 success stories you need to know about
- Sunscreen facts that could save your life
- 6 energy saving hacks for your home
- 5 tips for choosing a company to end your timeshare
- Overlooked water tips to save you money
- 5 of the most adored gentlemen in professional sports today
- The real danger of sitting at your desk
- Most surprising NBA playoff performances of the last 40 years
- 11 classic baseball movies you must see again
- Finally getting rid of fat: 3 methods that actually work
- 4 reasons cancer survivors should focus on food
- 5 spring cleaning spots everyone forgets
- 5 reasons to look forward to watching the D-backs this season
- Common virus attributed to spike in head and neck cancers
- 5 signs it’s time to end your timeshare ownership
- 3 most overlooked ways to keep your home healthy
- 6 ways the air in your home could be making you sick
- CrossFit dangers: 5 common injuries and how to deal with them
- Today's radiation treatments offer better success, fewer side effects
- Tips to make watching TV on the patio even better
- What really happens when you donate to a community college?
- Sun and skin cancer: Separating fact from fiction
- 5 critical lifestyle changes for a healthy colon