Photo released by Mt. Vernon, Ohio, School District are part of its investigation shows a "brand" mark on the arm of a student
The Rutherford Institute is joining the case of an Ohio teacher who was fired for keeping a Bible on his desk and suggesting that students "think critically about the school's science curriculum, particularly as it relates to evolution theories."
The announcement from John Whitehead, the president of the organization, concerns the claims of teacher John Freshwater.
"The right of public school teachers to academic freedom is the bedrock of American education," Whitehead said. "What we need today are more teachers and school administrators who understand that young people don't need to be indoctrinated. Rather, they need to be taught how to think for themselves."
Freshwater, a 24-year veteran in the classroom, originally was suspended several years ago by the Mount Vernon School District in Mount Vernon, Ohio.
One of the early allegations was that he "branded" students with a scientific machine called a Tesa Coil that demonstrates electrical current.
However, Dave Daubenmire, who served as a spokesman for the teacher, said the "cross branding" was nothing of the sort. He characterized it as a science experiment Freshwater had been conducting for 21 years in which he made X marks, not crosses, on the students' skin in the demonstration.
Daubenmire pointed out experts have affirmed the experiment causes no injury to students.
There were other issues involved.
Cited as reasons for his 2008 suspension and official termination in January 2011 were his actions of allegedly "improperly" injecting religion into the class by giving students "reason to doubt the accuracy and or veracity of scientists, science testbooks and/or science in general."
He also was accused of failing to remove "all religious articles" from his classroom.
But Freshwater never received a negative performance evaluation. And during the 2007-2008 school year, as the issues were developing, his students earned the highest state standardized test scores in science of any eighth grade class in the district.
According to the Rutherford Institute, "moreover, according to a federal judge's findings, Freshwater was the only science teacher at Mount Vernon Middle School who got a 'passing' score on the Ohio Achievement Test."
But when the school board ordered him to remove "all religious items" from his classroom, including his personal Bible, which he kept on his desk, he agreed to remove the objects except for the Bible.
As the conflict between the teacher and district developed, students organized a rally in his honor, wore T-shirts with crosses painted on them and carried Bibles to class.
Even though the district's policies state that because religious traditions vary, teachers should give unbiased instruction so that students may evaluate it "in accordance with their own religious tenets," school officials got rid of him.
He's now appealing the termination in state court, alleging violations of his First and Fourteenth Amendment rights and religious discrimination.
A case had been filed earlier, but changes made it expedient that the claims be renewed at this point, attorneys explained. The case originally was brought by attorney R. Kelly Hamilton on behalf of Freshwater, alleging 16 counts including violations of Freshwater's First and 14th Amendment rights of free speech, free association and free exercise of religion.
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.