A public school teacher fired by an Ohio district after he was accused of having a Bible on his classroom desk and burning a “cross” into a student’s arm with a scientific device has filed a civil rights lawsuit against the district, seeking $1 million in damages plus reinstatement to his position as an 8th-grade science teacher.
The case was filed by lawyers for John Freshwater in federal court in Columbus, Ohio, against the Mount Vernon School District in Mount Vernon, Ohio.
School officials declined to comment to WND on the dispute.
But the claim filed by attorney R. Kelly Hamilton alleges 16 counts including violations of Freshwater’s First and 14th Amendment rights of free speech, free association and free exercise of religion.
The attorney told WND Freshwater has been suspended without pay since July of 2008, and the case has a series of procedural steps to go through at this point.
He said if there had been legitimate issues to deal with in the dispute, the district had open a series of procedures through the teachers’ collective bargaining agreement, but none of that happened.
WND has reported previously on the dispute, including when the school board voted to dismiss Freshwater.
Photo released by Mt. Vernon, Ohio, School District are part of its investigation shows a “brand” mark on the arm of a student
The vote a year ago came after Freshwater was accused of having a Bible on his classroom desk and also using a high-frequency generator – a Tesla coil – to make a cross on the arms of students, a mark that faded after a short time.
A spokesman for Freshwater, Dave Daubenmire, at the time said the “cross branding” was nothing of the sort. He characterized it as a science experiment Freshwater had been doing for 21 years in which he made X marks, not crosses, on the students’ skin with a Tesla Coil to demonstrate electrical current.
“They tried to make it out to be a cross, because it made him look like some kind of idiot,” Daubenmire said of two parents who had sued the school and Freshwater over the issue.
Daubenmire pointed out experts have affirmed the experiment causes no injury to students.
Daubenmire, of Pass The Salt Ministries and Minutemen United, also explained to WND at the time that Freshwater had not used the Bible in his interaction with students. But he said the teacher believed he should not forfeit his constitutional rights just because of his occupation.
Named as defendants are board members as well as individuals including board member Jody Goetzman, Superintendent Steve Short, teaching director Lynda Weston, Principal William White, board agent David Millstone, a human resources company called H.R. on Call, board agent Thomas Herlevi and others.
The defendants “deprived Freshwater of his rights secured and provided by the United States Constitution” and “discriminated, harassed, and are attempting to terminate the employment of Plaintiff Freshwater because Freshwater kept his personal Bible on his desk.”
Other “false allegations” have been made in an attempt to discredit him, according to the lawsuit.
The complaint traces the alleged attacks by the school on Freshwater to his teaching of science, which included encouragement that his students question and analyze scientific theories such as evolution.
It confirms Freshwater kept a 28-year-old copy of “The Living Bible – Paraphrased” on his desk because “he receives personal inspiration from the presence of the book.”
But he said he did not display or reference the Bible in the classroom, and he didn’t follow instructions to remove the Bible because “other teachers employed by Defendant Board had various personal Bibles on their desks.”
“As a proximate result of Defendant Board, Short and White’s religious discrimination against Plaintiff Freshwater he has suffered and continues to suffer substantial economic losses and has suffered and continues to suffer embarrassment, emotional distress, humiliation and mental anguish, all to his damage,” the case alleges.
The case alleges the defendants also violated state regulations and created a hostile work environment for him.