This post is about a teacher in Mount Vernon, Ohio who has used his teacher's lectern as a pulpit. He is not an isolated case, but he is the perfect example of someone who is so sure he knows the whole truth, that he imposes his beliefs on public school children, and as a result, has divided a community.
Although the proselytising had started as early as 2003, it came to the forefront when Jenifer Dennis's son came home from school near the end of 2007 with his arm covered with red and swollen welts and blisters in the shape of a cross. She described it as a burn that might have come from a curling iron.
Dennis's son had been burned by John Freshwater, his 8th-grade science teacher, who admitted to using a Tesla coil on the boy, but insisted it was the letter X, not a cross.
Jenifer Dennis who is a Christian stated, "I don't think that [religion] should be the decision of a school teacher. Religion...belongs in church, a home or in a religious class. I don't think any child should feel uncomfortable at school."
Soon after this incident, other allegations came to the attention of school officials. Freshwater had been promoting fundamentalist Christianity and teaching creationism using Legos™ to demonstrate that complex structures can't build themselves. He displayed religious posters in his classes, quizzed students on their religious beliefs, and offered "healing" services.
In June 2008 the school district told Freshwater he would be fired, but had the right to a hearing which has been underway for nearly 2 years. A report to the school board should be complete within a few months.
At the hearings Freshwater denied passing out religious surveys to students but the school's attorney found more than 125 completed forms in his classroom. He denied the Lego™ lessons, too, but a tape was produced on which Freshwater bragged about such a lesson on a right-wing radio station. Handouts denying evolution were produced. Freshwater never allowed students to take them home. He claimed it wasn't to hide anything, only to save paper. Other science teachers at the school stated that Freshwater often referred to the Bible as a source of research.
Many Mount Vernon citizens think Freshwater crossed the line with his proselytizing, but predictably, he also has many supporters. The Dennis family was harassed so much they moved to another town.
Meanwhile Freshwater claimed the school district is after him for keeping a Bible on his desk, and has thus become a martyr for the Religious Right. He filed a $1 million suit against the school and counter-sued the Dennis family. The Ohio Supreme Court dismissed that case in September 2009.
In fact, school officials told him he was allowed to keep the Bible on his desk and read it during breaks. He had been told to stop promoting religion in his classes, but he did not comply.
David Millstone, the school's attorney, stated: "These kids are at an impressionable age...The superintendent wants to protect the students' right to be free from religious indoctrination in the classroom."
Source: Church & State, March 2010
(published by Americans United for
Separation of Church and State)
Update: 10/12/11, A judge upheld the firing of Freshwater. In the judge's ruling, he stated that there was clear and convincing evidence that the school board was right in dismissing Freshwater. See more HERE.
It looks like Freshwater may continue to appeal this case.