MOUNT VERNON — Attorneys acting on behalf of the Mount Vernon City school board on Friday submitted a response to John Freshwater’s memorandum to the Supreme Court of Ohio.
Following an investigation by an independent firm and 38 days of public hearings, Freshwater was fired from his position as eighth-grade science teacher. He appealed the decision to the Knox County Court of Common Pleas and to the 5th District Court of Appeals. Both bodies affirmed the board’s decision to terminate his teaching contract.
In April, Freshwater filed a notice of appeal and memorandum in support of jurisdiction with the Ohio Supreme Court, alleging the board violated his rights to academic freedom and freedom from religious hostility.
The board’s response goes on to say that public employees have no free-speech rights when they speak in their official capacity.
“Freshwater was not speaking as a citizen exercising his free speech rights when he taught creationism and intelligent design in his eighth-grade classrooms. He was speaking as the voice of the [school] board,” the argument states.
Contradicting Freshwater’s claim the board banished certain academic theories — creationism and/or intelligent design — from his classroom because they are consistent with certain religious traditions, the board’s attorneys responded, “Assigning the term ‘academic theory’ to one’s religious beliefs simply does not transform the nature of those beliefs, especially in the context of a science curriculum.”
The board memorandum denies that the board was being hostile to religion by permitting the teaching of evolution in science classes, as Freshwater’s brief alleges. “The Board does not condemn religion by solely teaching evolution as the origin of life in eighth-grade science class. Evolution is the predominate scientific theory on the subject. ... Religious theories have no place in an eighth-grade science classroom because they are not scientific.”
The board response further stated the Bible is not completely off limits in a public school system as it can be presented objectively in a class on comparative religions or in an English literature class. Freshwater, however, was hired to teach science.
In conclusion, the board’s attorneys said the case does not present a substantial constitutional question and asked the court to decline to hear the case.