MOUNT VERNON — Tuesday marked the 37th day of testimony in the contract termination hearing of suspended Mount Vernon Middle School science teacher John Freshwater, but, despite statements made last week, it was not the last. The hearing will resume at 9 a.m. on Tuesday, June 22.
Rebuttal witnesses Tuesday included Marcia Orsborn, a MVMS teacher; the Rev. Mark Hammond, pastor of St. Vincent de Paul Catholic Church; Dr. Patricia Princehouse, instructor of evolutionary biology and the history and philosophy of science at Case Western Reserve University; and Professor Steve Rissing, biology professor at The Ohio State University.
In previous testimony, Freshwater said he didn’t have anything against Catholics and never questioned that Catholics are Christian. On Tuesday, Orsborn said she, at the request of a parent, asked Freshwater, in his role as advisor to the Fellowship of Christian Athletes, to invite a Catholic priest to speak at FCA.
“He said he would have to check his Bible,” Orsborn said. “When I asked him why, he said, ‘I’d have to check because I don’t know if he’s a Christian.’”
She said she was upset when Freshwater said, “I’m not sure a Catholic is a Christian.”
Orsborn said Freshwater eventually said she could contact a Catholic priest, so she called the parish office and left a message.
In December, Freshwater said he did not initiate contact with FCA speakers. On Tuesday, Hammond said, “To the best of my recollection, it was Mr. Freshwater who asked me to speak [at FCA.]”
Hammond did not recall any contact with a student FCA member until he spoke at a meeting.
In 2003, Freshwater proposed to the Mount Vernon school board that it implement a policy to “scientifically and critically examine” Darwin’s theory of evolution. He testified in December that the intent of the proposal was not “to get the school board to teach religion, creationism or intelligent design.” He said he “would not teach creationism in a public school.”
Princehouse on Tuesday said the proposal was taken verbatim from an intelligent design Web site. In her opinion, it was indeed intended to substitute religion for scientific understanding, and to actually teach creationism. She said Freshwater would have known he was proposing a religious aspect as opposed to a scientific one.
Asked about one of Freshwater’s lesson plans which mentioned “specified complexity” and “irreducible complexity, ” Princehouse said they are buzz words for intelligent design and creationism and are not true scientific concepts. Rissing also said they are inappropriate for an eighth-grade science class.
In December, Freshwater made frequent references to Ohio’s eighth-grade science content standards. Princehouse and Rissing described how the standards were developed and mentioned the resources on which the proposed standards were based.
One benchmark, or indicator, deals with the subject of bias. Princehouse and Rissing both said some of the material Freshwater said he used to teach bias, such as a giraffe worksheet, were not appropriate. Rissing, who helped develop the state standards, said Freshwater’s usage was not what the committee had in mind when developing the standards.
For example, the giraffe exercise, he said, is a creationist document and is “totally incorrect biologically. It is not an example of scientific bias. ... It is not biology. It does not speak to the standards. ... This is not the sense of the word bias in science. Science bias relates to the process of how you do science.”
Rissing also said it was wrong to use materials from Answers in Genesis or to allow students to access the Answers in Genesis Web site for science research.
Asked whether it would be appropriate to allow students to debate intelligent design versus evolution in an eighth-grade class, Princehouse and Rissing both said science is not a debate but a discussion, and debating is not a good way to teach scientific concepts.
Pressed by Freshwater’s attorney Kelly Hamilton, Rissing said there was no written definition of bias in the standards.