Sunday, January 24, 2010

Teacher with Bible Divides Ohio Town

In a small Ohio town, where most people would describe themselves as devoutly Christian, a trial involving a middle school science teacher has been compared to the Scopes trial of 1925 has created a rift between citizens.

According to a New York Times article, John Freshwater, an eighth-grade public school science teacher in Mount Vernon, Ohio is accused of burning a cross on the arms of at least two students and teaching creationism in his classes. Home to about 15,000 people, 30 churches and an evangelical university, the town remains split. “To some, Mr. Freshwater is a hero unfairly punished for standing up for his Christian beliefs. To others, he is a zealot who pushed those beliefs onto students.” In my opinion, Mr. Freshwater is trying to push his own beliefs onto his students, going against the separation of church and state that has existed within this country for hundreds of years. I agree with the school systems’ lawyer who argued that this is “a basic issue about students having a constitutional right to be free from religious indoctrination in public schools.”

Public schools are much different from private, religious based schools. The funds they receive are from taxpayers of all races, ethnicities, and religions. Students in public schools deserve to receive a secular education, one that is not influenced by a specific religion. According to the article, a number of Mr. Freshwater’s colleagues found his teachings to go against this ideal. One teacher testified that Mr. Freshwater advised students to refer to the Bible for additional science research. “School officials said that Mr. Freshwater’s science classroom was adorned with at least four copies of the Ten Commandments and several other posters that included verses from Scripture.” It is clear that Mr. Freshwater has moved faith from the private sphere, in homes and churches, into the public sphere, where it does not necessarily belong. His practices in his classroom have created a place where religion is pushed upon students who may not share the same beliefs that their teacher believes.

However, some do not feel the same way. Mr. Freshwater’s pastor believes that the criticism was part of a larger trend toward bigotry against Christians. “If he had a Koran on his desk, he’d be fine and no one would say a word to him. If he had ‘Origin of Species’ on his desk, they would celebrate that.” Even students have taken the side of Mr. Freshwater, holding a “bring your Bible to school” day, and wearing t-shirts that read “I support Mr. Freshwater- God” on the front. However, rules are rules. The United States is a secular nation, one where laws have been enacted preventing the teaching of religion in public schools. It will be interesting to read court cases later this semester involving these issues, however, without these examples, it is evident that Mr. Freshwater is violating the fundamental separation of church and state.

It is hard to imagine myself sitting in Mr. Freshwater’s classroom. As someone who does not share the same religious views as this teacher, it would be uncomfortable to hear his teachings. In the upcoming court case it will be interesting to see how Mr. Freshwater is judged and if the separation of church and state will be upheld.


Jessica B said...

Mr. Freshwater should definitely be fired. If you are so passionate about your religion, teach at a religious school or become a pastor. Your choice to teach in a public school gives you one job: to educate students on academic matters. He has no right to preach his beliefs to young, impressionable minds even if the majority of the town practices his religion. It is the parent’s decision to integrate religion into their child’s education and according to the article this town had plenty of resources for them to do so if they so chose. He completely violated the division of church and state by bringing biased religious views into a federally funded establishment. The comment made by the priest stating, “If he had a Koran on his desk, he’d be fine and no one would say a word to him. If he had ‘Origin of Species’ on his desk, they would celebrate that,” is complete rubbish. To correlate a religious scripture such as the Bible or Koran to a scientific book such as the ‘Origin of Species’ is ignorance. I think the head of a religious institution should know better than to condone Mr. Freshwaters blatantly illegal acts.

Claire said...

I agree that Mr. Freshwater has quite clearly violated the separation of church and state. It is shocking to learn that creationism still being taught in some public schools in this day and age. In 1996, Pope John Paul II announced that evolutionism was a fact. It was my belief that most other Christian religions had since drawn the same conclusion. Regardless, Mr. Freshwater’s personal beliefs had no place in the classroom, especially not the science classroom. It will be interesting to hear the outcome of this case since it seems that Mr. Freshwater has the small Ohio town on his side.

Justin M said...

I also agree that Mr. Freshwater should not be pushing his religious views in a public school setting. Undoubtedly, members of the community have a valid reason to be upset with these incidents. The school system should have no choice but to take action against Mr. Freshwater. However, it appears that relatively little attention is being given to the allegations that Mr. Freshwater burned a cross into the arms of two of his students. In the article, Mr. Freshwater claims that he was only repeating a science experiment that he has performed hundreds of times. Beyond this, the article gives few other details about this issue. While these accusations have not been proven thus far, I believe that this issue deserves far more attention. If Mr. Freshwater did intend to “brand” the students with a cross, this case goes far beyond teaching religious ideals in the classroom.

Rob K said...

Well, it seems that we are all in agreement over the clear violations committed by Mr. Freshwater in this situation. As one of the earlier contributors commented, as a public school teacher it is his job to “to educate students on academic matters.” Where I take issue with this situation is that Mr. Freshwater clearly showed signs that he was devoutly Christian and that he did not believe in evolution as it should be taught in a public school prior to the cross burning incident. School officials reported that “Mr. Freshwater’s science classroom was adorned with at least four copies of the Ten Commandments and several other posters that included verses from Scripture.” Additionally, Freshwater is quoted as saying “I ruffled some feathers,” when referencing his proposal to the school board in 2003 that Evolution be taught as theory instead of fact. It is in my opinion that the School Board should have taken action much sooner, given the clear violations in everyday classroom situations. I understand that his pre-termination hearing is trial currently at hand, but I find it hard to believe that a teacher of 21 years with such beliefs and practices has not warranted action until now.

E.Levy said...

To put it quite simply Mr. Freshwater could not have committed a more egregious act. There exists a fine line between secular matter and religious matter just as there is between church and state. The Mount Vernon school board holds the right to distinguish between appropriate and inappropriate conduct and Mr. Freshwater has clearly provided the school board with an obvious decision. For the school to endorse Mr. Freshwater and his actions would be a blatant disregard for the first amendment of the constitution, and the well being of the United States legal system. Separation of church and state was enacted for a specific reason and for Mr. Freshwater to continue teaching at this school would be a perversion of this amendment. Parents have the right to send their children to public school and expect a religious free education. Whether or not Mr. Freshwater’s curious teaching antics borders the separation of church and state clause is secondary to his blatant disregard for school policy. Refusing to remove a religious text from his classroom is a sheer cue that swift action by the school is needed to protect the constitution and American children’s secular education. From my point of view I absolutely agree with the authors assessment that a teaching style such as Mr. Freshwater‘s would make and individual not in sync with his religious views reasonably uncomfortable.

melissak said...

As agreed upon, Mr. Freshwater blatantly ignored the separation of church and state and the fact that public institutions need to uphold religious neutrality. Students that attend public schools have a right to receive an education free of personnel religious views. A classroom environment is where students formulate their notion of the world and to have a teacher indoctrinate during this process is completely absurd. Mr. Freshwater is granted the freedom to have his own views on creation but this right does not extend to teaching science in a public school. He veers from the science curriculum by promoting a specific religion, and I agree that it would be uncomfortable for students that do not share the same faith and do not have the option of excusing themselves from class. When Mr. Freshwater's pastor defends him by arguing that this is an attack on Christianity, he is completely shifting the real problem at hand. This is a simple separation of church and state, no matter what the religion being removed from schools is, a public institution needs to remain secular.