MOUNT VERNON — John Freshwater, who, on his own behalf, filed an appeal against the termination of his teaching contract by the Mount Vernon City Schools Board of Education, now has legal representation. The Rutherford Institute of Charlottesville, Va., will be assisting with the case at Freshwater’s request.
On Monday, John Whitehead, president of the institute, told the News he is interested in the academic freedom aspect of the case.
“Schools should be there to make kids think critically,” he explained. “If you’re teaching science or evolution, if the teacher can’t deviate a bit and try to get the kids to think analytically and critically, then I would have a case for robots teaching this stuff. I think the importance here is what he did. And what he explained to me what he did is to make these kids — these are eighth-graders — think about what they’re being taught and is it true. ... I think [Freshwater] was trying to get kids to think. He was trying to say, ‘Hey, this is not really a fact.’ Some of the stuff around evolution is not a fact. It just isn’t. ... I think we just need to think analytically, and that’s where I’m coming from.”
Whitehead said he has had several conversations with Freshwater and has reviewed his court cases.
“I’m pretty satisfied with his explanation of what he did in the classroom,” he said. “He had that section where he told me if it was theory and not a fact, the kids could say, out loud, ‘here’, for whatever reason, to indicate they were getting that what was being taught wasn’t really [fact]. He explained it very well to me. If what he’s doing is telling me the truth, it is [an] academic freedom [issue]. I think teachers should raise those questions. A lot of people question evolution; scientists question it. ... If he’s teaching it and he’s not indoctrinating religion, he’s questioning something that should definitely be questioned. I think it’s good for the kids. They should walk out of that room going, ‘Yeah, yeah. Maybe I’d better look into this further.’”
Whitehead, constitutional attorney and author, founded the Rutherford Institute in 1982. According to its website, the institute “is a civil liberties organization that provides free legal services to people whose constitutional and human rights have been threatened or violated.”
U. S. District Judge Gregory Frost issued an order on April 5 sending Freshwater’s appeal case back to the Knox County Court of Common Pleas. No court dates have been established at this time.