MOUNT VERNON — Attorneys for John Freshwater have filed a brief in response to the Mount Vernon school board’s latest filing with the Supreme Court of Ohio.
The brief rebuts arguments raised by the board’s brief, and again asks the Court to: Overturn the lower court’s ruling which upheld the board’s resolution to terminate Freshwater’s contract as a middle school science teacher; award monetary damages as a result of his wrongful termination; and order the school board to reinstate him to his teaching position.
The reply brief states that the First Amendment free speech and academic freedom rights Freshwater is using as a basis for his appeal to the Supreme Court are “much narrower than those claimed in the precedents the Board cites. ... Freshwater does not claim a generalized First Amendment right to free speech in the classroom or to determine classroom curriculum.”
The brief also asserts, “Freshwater has never, at any time, refused to comply with any clear directive of the Board or administration as to how he should teach his class, what topics could be discussed in the classroom, or what items could be displayed, and he has not challenged the Board’s authority to give these orders. ... Freshwater claims only that First Amendment free speech and academic freedom principles protect him from termination flowing from viewpoint-based censorship where he has complied with all Board policies and all clear directives from his superiors.”
Later, the brief states the Court needs to make sure a school “does not become a totalitarian setting in which the government is permitted to terminate teachers as a means of eliminating particular viewpoints from academic discussion.” It claims the board took its action to solely to eliminate a line of inquiry [in a science classroom] which challenges evolution theory.
Freshwater, the reply states, complied fully with Board policies and academic content standards. It claims Freshwater did not promote religion in his classroom and states, “Teaching alternative theories of creationism or intelligent design does not constitute the teaching of religion itself” any more than teaching yoga in gym class promotes Hinduism or teaching about the cultural and historical influence of the prophet Mohammed in history class promotes Islam.
With regard to the board’s charge that Freshwater was insubordinate for not removing items from his classroom when told to do so by the principal, the reply brief asserts the record “demonstrates either that Freshwater had not been clearly directed to remove the item or the item was allowed to be displayed or maintained in other parts of the building.”
The brief also alleges the board’s action was taken “to sterilize the school of words, pictures, or ideas that have a tangential association to religion. ... The Board has punished Freshwater’s facilitating the critical evaluation of a scientific theory solely because the competing ideas are consistent with multiple religions” and therefore turned school administrators into “religion police.”
The brief concludes: “In terminating Freshwater, the Board has gone far astray from foundational First Amendment principles.”
Oral arguments before the Supreme Court are scheduled for Wed., Feb. 27.
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