MOUNT VERNON — The defense continued to call witnesses when the John Freshwater contract termination hearing resumed Friday morning.
Finn Laursen, executive director of the Christian Educators Association International, was Friday’s principal witness. With extensive experience as a school administrator, and drawing upon his association with the First Amendment Center, Laursen testified with regard to First Amendment rights and the topic of religion in public school classrooms.
He said the First Amendment protects the rights of the faith community and the secular community, and does not prohibit the presence of a Bible on a teacher’s desk.
“The Bible sitting there by itself doesn’t say anything,” Finn said. “It doesn’t promote or denigrate any religion. It’s a book on a desk. ... The issue is it cannot be used with students in a devotional manner.”
Laursen echoed a statement made by Tim Keib on Thursday, that there is a difference between teaching about religion and teaching religion. Laursen said schools do need to teach about religion because it is a big part of one’s cultural heritage, but schools should not be telling students what to believe.
Answering questions by Freshwater attorney Kelly Hamilton, Laursen gave his definition of insubordination, talked about Ohio’s mandatory reporting requirement, and said debate is a desirable and effective classroom strategy.
Regarding the Fellowship of Christian Athletes, Laursen said that, by law, “You [as a school district] can’t treat a club with religious content differently than a club without religious content.”
Laursen, on cross-examination by board lawyer David Millstone, said it would be inappropriate for a teacher to read the Bible in the classroom in the presence of students, even during “free reading” time. He said the use of a Bible in a literature or history class could be acceptable, but couldn’t think of anything in a math class which would make it appropriate to use a Bible.
“What about ‘Numbers?’” Millstone asked.
A 15-year-old former student of Freshwater was the first to take the stand on Friday. The student was in the same eighth-period science class in which an alleged injury to another student took place. The student did not participate in the Tesla coil experiment, but did see other students volunteer to do so.
“A student would be lying if they said John [Freshwater] held someone’s arm down on the overhead during the Tesla coil [experiment.] ... If a student told John to stop, then John would stop,” the student testified.
Upon cross-examination by Millstone, the student said Freshwater did bring volunteers up to the overhead, set their arms down on it and then “draw” on them.
Other witnesses were Patti Dice, in her capacity as a Mount Vernon Education Association union representative, and teacher Lori Miller. Miller’s appearance was protested by Millstone on the grounds she had already testified in March. Shepherd overruled Millstone’s objection.
Miller answered questions about being directed to remove devotional materials from her classroom and then subsequently being permitted to keep her Bible on her desk.
Following the lunch break, hearing referee R. Lee Shepherd met in private with Hamilton and Millstone. Shepherd then ordered the hearing be adjourned until Nov. 17 at 9 a.m., and witnesses scheduled for Friday afternoon were excused.