It would seem that nothing bothers the religious far-right more than having the U.S. Constitution thrown in their collective face. That was the case in Ohio’s Mt. Vernon City School District.
John Freshwater was an eighth-grade science teacher at the district until he was terminated for what is being called “insubordination”.? You see, Mr. Freshwater – a stone cold creationist – would often teach creationism in his class as well as display religious symbols throughout his classroom. When he was told to stop he didn’t.
The report comes from Americans United, an organization that promotes the separation of church and state that’s active in Congress and in courts across the nation. Executive director of A.U. Rev. Barry W. Lynn said on the Freshwater matter:
Public school are for teaching, not preaching. Freshwater not only violated that principle, he openly defied the orders of his superiors. That’s not what freedom of religion is about.
You cannot argue with the good reverend on that point. Freedom of religion is about openness and the right to feel secure in what you believe without restriction. Sadly, it seems that all too often that there are plenty of people in the United States who would rather force feed others their beliefs than acknowledge basic First Amendment rights.
Naturally, upon his firing Mr. Freshwater took to the courts and the matter was eventually brought to the Ohio Supreme Court where – courtesy of a 4-3 decision that came on November 19 – the termination was upheld.
The lead opinion on the case was written by Justice Maureen O’Connor:
Freshwater not only ignored the school district’s directive, he defied it. After he was directed to remove the items, Freshwater deliberately added to them, incorporating the Oxford Bible and Jesus of Nazareth into the classroom.
One can practically hear the many arguments being formulated by the religious far-right about First Amendment rights violations and Christian America nonsense. Well, The Liberal Conservative has already exposed the complete fallacy that is the “Christian nation” argument and Mr. Freshwater’s First Amendment rights just plain were not violated. Justice O’Connor explains:
Freshwater’s First Amendment rights did not protect the display of these (religious) items, because they were not a part of his exercise of his religion. Freshwater’s willful disobedience of these direct orders demonstrates blatant insubordination. That insubordination is established by clear and convincing evidence, and the record fully supports the board’s decision to terminate him on these grounds.
So of course Mr. Freshwater has the right to his own religion. Nobody is trying to take that away. However, he does not have the right to force his religion on others or pry into the spiritual lives of others – including the children he taught – in a government-funded public education facility on the very First Amendment grounds that he attempted to use to argue against his termination. Let’s go ahead and revisit the First Amendment:
Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.
Pay special attention to the section in bold print. When people say that the words “separation of church and state” aren’t in the Constitution, they’re right; however, the idea clearly is.
What exactly, one may ask, did Mr. Freshwater do to violate the First Amendment? According to the A.U. report he did some rather unsettling things.
For instance, it’s been reported that he handed out surveys to his students asking whether or not religion was important to them. This is against the law. He’s also been accused of using a Tesla coil to burn a cross into the arm of one of his students. That is very against the law. So he was eventually terminated and now that decision has been – thankfully – upheld.
However, things aren’t all roses in the eyes of Americans United. While two lower courts and the state’s highest court all upheld the school district’s decision to fire Freshwater there were still three justices who dissented and argued that Freshwater should not have been fired. Said Rev. Lynn – an ordained minster with the United Church Of Christ:
It is shocking that any judge would conclude teaching creationism is part of ?academic debate? in 2013. The U.S. Supreme Court ruled long ago that creationism is a sectarian idea that does not belong in public schools, and I am alarmed that jurists would buy into the bogus claims of creationism proponents.
Well said, Rev. Maybe one day the misguided creationist movement will realize that they will not win. You cannot halt progress. The abolition of slavery proves it. The Suffragette movement proves it. The Civil Rights movement proves it. The LGBT movement proves it. Creationist folk: please just accept that the world is moving forward with you or without you.