MOUNT VERNON — Court actions concerning the termination of the teaching contract of John Freshwater by the Mount Vernon City Board of Education ratcheted up a couple of notches in 2012.
Freshwater was initially suspended from his position as a middle school science teacher in 2008 for insubordination and inserting his personal religious beliefs in to his classroom instruction. His contract was officially terminated in January 2011 and he has been appealing that action ever since.
When Knox County Judge Otho Eyster upheld the school board’s decision in October 2011, Freshwater filed an appeal with the Ohio Fifth Appellate District Court of Appeals.
In March 2012, the Appellate Court refused to overturn Eyster’s decision. It ruled there had been no improprieties on Eyster’s part, and rejected Freshwater’s claims of insufficient evidence and noncredible witnesses. The court also ordered Freshwater to pay the costs of the appeal.
The Ohio Supreme Court became involved in April 2012, when Freshwater filed a brief with that body asking it to consider constitutional issues and civil liberty components of the case which were ignored by the previous court.
The school board responded by filing a response to Freshwater’s brief which contended the Court should decline jurisdiction because no substantial constitutional questions were involved.
In July, the Ohio Supreme Court agreed to hear Freshwater’s appeal based on issues related to academic freedom and the rights of free speech.
A merit brief Freshwater filed with the Supreme Court in August asked the court to reverse the decisions of the lower court, award Freshwater monetary damages and order the school board to reinstate him.
Attorneys for the school board in response, in September, filed a motion with the Supreme Court to strike certain parts of the merit brief because, the board’s motion said, there were discrepancies in what Freshwater originally filed with the court and the merit brief filed later. The board’s motion also asked the court to strike other material that was not introduced in an earlier court and therefore not a part of the official court of appeals record..
Freshwater’s reply brief, filed in October, rebuts the arguments raised in the board’s response. It calls Mount Vernon school administrators “religion police” and concludes that when the board fired Freshwater it went “far astray from foundational First Amendment principles.”
Also in October, several national organizations weighed in on the case. Amicus briefs were filed by the National Center for Science Education, The American Humanist Association in conjunction with the Secular Student Alliance and Americans United for Separation of Church and State in conjunction with the Anti-Defamation League.
Oral arguments before the Supreme Court are scheduled for Feb. 27, 2013.
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