Nowhere is such freedom more crucial than in a science classroom
July 6, 2012 6:57 AM   Subscribe

The Ohio Supreme Court has announced it will hear the appeal of John Freshwater, a Mt. Vernon eighth grade science teacher terminated after being accused of preaching Christian beliefs in class when discussing topics such as evolution and homosexuality. He was also accused of burning the image of a cross on students' arms.

The Supreme Court has agreed to hear the appeal on the basis of two propositions of law submitted by Freshwater:

•No. 1 — “The termination of a public school teacher’s employment contract based on the teacher’s use of academic freedom where the school board has not provided any clear indication as the kinds of materials or teaching methods which are unacceptable cannot be legally justified, as it constitutes an impermissible violation of the rights of the teacher and his students to free speech and academic freedom the First Amendment to the United States Constitution and a manifestation of hostility toward religion in violation of the First Amendment’s Establishment Clause.”

•No. 2 — “The termination of a public school teacher’s employment contract based on the mere [presence of religious texts from the school’s library and/or the display of a patriotic poster cannot be legally justified, as it constitutes and impermissible violation of the rights of a teacher and his students to free speech and academic freedom under the First Amendment to the United States Constitution and a manifestation of hostility toward religion in violation of the First Amendment’s Establishment Clause.”
posted by roomthreeseventeen (146 comments total) 3 users marked this as a favorite

 
He also was accused of using a scientific device to mark students with a cross and of keeping a Bible on his desk.

The state officer's report said there was "a plausible explanation" for Freshwater's use of the scientific device, though it didn't detail the explanation, and that the administration had dealt with that issue.


"plausible explanation"?
posted by R. Mutt at 7:01 AM on July 6, 2012 [1 favorite]


"plausible explanation"?

Exorcising demons.
posted by Thorzdad at 7:04 AM on July 6, 2012 [3 favorites]


If that's his legal argument, he's screwed. You can't justify preaching in class as "free speech". Classrooms are not platforms for free speech, nor is advocating a religious position in a non-religion class protected speech.
posted by Edison Carter at 7:05 AM on July 6, 2012 [5 favorites]


Pretty ironic and ballsy to use "academic freedom" as a defense.

I'm hoping the Supreme Court took this case in order to issue a smackdown.
posted by gjc at 7:08 AM on July 6, 2012 [3 favorites]


What the fuck? Why are they even bothering to hear the appeal by this asshole? Separation of church and state in the classroom is pretty well-established in precedent, isn't it? Now I'm nervous.
posted by kmz at 7:10 AM on July 6, 2012 [2 favorites]


Freedom of speech often depends on context. If I read Jonathan Swift's "A Modest Proposal" to my students, that's free speech. If I tell them that those among them who are poor should really be selling each other to be eaten, that's something else again, even if I believe it's true.
posted by ubiquity at 7:10 AM on July 6, 2012


Worst case scenario: Here's where Roberts tries to win back his GOP street cred.
posted by shakespeherian at 7:10 AM on July 6, 2012 [1 favorite]


Worst case scenario: Here's where Roberts tries to win back his GOP street cred.

I think this appeal is being heard by the Ohio (state) Supreme Court, not the U.S. (federal) Supreme Court.
posted by RonButNotStupid at 7:12 AM on July 6, 2012 [1 favorite]


Worst case scenario: Here's where Roberts tries to win back his GOP street cred.

At this point, we're just talking about the Ohio Supreme Court, not SCOTUS.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 7:12 AM on July 6, 2012 [1 favorite]


Seriously, just drop all the first-amendment stuff and don't even raise the issue (the media will raise it a-plenty anyway) and focus on the branding kids' arms with crosses because what in the actual fuck i don't even

That's just straight-up assault and would be an open-and-shut case.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 7:12 AM on July 6, 2012 [22 favorites]


Worst case scenario: Here's where Roberts tries to win back his GOP street cred.

That'd be a worst case scenario in more ways than one: last time I checked, Roberts didn't sit on the Ohio Supreme Court.
posted by valkyryn at 7:13 AM on July 6, 2012 [7 favorites]


There's a lot more about the case in the John Freshwater wikipedia article.
posted by zamboni at 7:14 AM on July 6, 2012 [1 favorite]


That's just straight-up assault and would be an open-and-shut case.

There's already been a civil suit by the kid's family.

posted by zamboni at 7:19 AM on July 6, 2012 [1 favorite]


Sometimes you just gotta give the crazies their day in court. Both Freshwater and his attorney have been sanctioned by the courts for their behavior, regardless of the outcome of the actual case.

I'm currently fighting two cases against attorneys of similar caliber. The judges could easily bitchslap these fools, but they've been consistently careful not to exercise their discretion in any way which might provoke an appeal, basically treating the plaintiffs as if they're proceeding pro se. It's frequently easier to just do the thing right the first time, even if that means catering to bullshittery, than it is to get in a fight with an incompetent attorney.

I see no reason to think this is anything but "i" dotting and "t" crossing.
posted by valkyryn at 7:20 AM on July 6, 2012 [18 favorites]


"...and a manifestation of hostility toward religion in violation of the First Amendment’s Establishment Clause."

It's a SCIENCE class in a PUBLIC SCHOOL. If he was teaching this in a church, everything would be hunky-dory.

(I wonder how God feels playing second-fiddle to semantics.)
posted by Benny Andajetz at 7:20 AM on July 6, 2012


Seriously, just drop all the first-amendment stuff and don't even raise the issue (the media will raise it a-plenty anyway) and focus on the branding kids' arms with crosses because what in the actual fuck i don't even

That's just straight-up assault and would be an open-and-shut case.


I wish we actually knew more about that. It does sound pretty awful, but if the state investigator found a plausible explanation, I'd like to know what it was. It also sounds like "branded" might be a slightly alarmist description of a mark that lasted three to four weeks. That said, if he's just holding students down and drawing marks on them with a Tesla coil it doesn't really matter how long it lasted. The investigator's report makes it sound like that is not what happened, but it doesn't elaborate on what exactly was going on.
posted by Bulgaroktonos at 7:21 AM on July 6, 2012


The unsettling thing about this even being heard by the Ohio Supremes is there are no good outcomes - either a) they're going to agree (even in part) with Freshwater's attorneys, or b) they will create case law in support of what should have been common sense in the first place.
posted by Mooski at 7:21 AM on July 6, 2012 [2 favorites]


That'd be a worst case scenario in more ways than one: last time I checked, Roberts didn't sit on the Ohio Supreme Court.

Now let me explain your joke.
posted by shakespeherian at 7:21 AM on July 6, 2012 [1 favorite]


I sure hope you're right, valkyryn. With all of the right-wing court packing that's happened over the past few decades, and my personal knowledge of how much Christianism has taken root in Ohio, these things fill me with trepidation.
posted by mondo dentro at 7:24 AM on July 6, 2012


More on the Tesla coil burn thing (!!!) from Wikipedia:

In the hearing, both parties called medical experts to testify on the use of a Tesla coil on students. The experts only had access to the photos, but never examined the student. The board's medical expert testified that the photos of the student's arm "looked like a burn to him, specifically an electrical burn. He said if high voltage is involved, one also needs to be concerned about underlying injury."[16] Defense witness Dr. Patrick Johnston doubted the pictures show a second-degree burn, as that would have been "excruciating" and that he would have prescribed narcotic pain relievers in a similar case. Johnston further stated that, in his opinion, if it were second-degree burns, the "parents were negligent in not taking the child to a doctor." [17]

The company that manufactured the device used by Freshwater has stated that it should not be used on human beings, and e-mailed written instructions to the investigators which state, “Never touch or come in contact with the high voltage output of this device, nor with any device it is energizing.” Freshwater defended his actions, stating he used an electrostatic generator to leave an "X", rather than a cross, on a student's arm as a demonstration, something he said he had done hundreds of times in the past, and that the process merely leaves a temporary red mark.[11] Moreover, the only written instructions possessed by the schools had no such caution. Principal William White testified, "No, it does not [say anything about not touching people with the Tesla coil.]".

posted by jhandey at 7:26 AM on July 6, 2012 [3 favorites]


I fucking love how the fundies always love to come off as some fucking oppressed minority with their backs up against the wall.

Dear John Freshwater: Go sell shoes.
posted by Pirate-Bartender-Zombie-Monkey at 7:27 AM on July 6, 2012 [19 favorites]


Wow, that wiki article. Aside from the religious bits, DUDE BURNED A KID and at one point was also accused of shocking a special needs child. It sounds like he was told numerous times to knock off the religion in a SCIENCE classroom but just couldn't help himself.

To top if off, it sounds like he either had incompetent lawyers or that he himself made it so hard for them to do his job, they just couldn't defend him (in re: to not filing briefs and submitting evidence on time).

15 years ago I had a science teacher like this. A friend of mine pointed out that teaching creationism in science class was ludicrous at which point he allowed a vote: All those in favor of God, say I aye. All those in favor of bullshit evolution, he said, say nay. Two of us raised our hands in favor of learning about actual science in a science class and that was that. From then on we learned about how God had made the Earth and how there were no dinosaurs. BTW, that student is now a highly educated, world-renowned scientist. That former teacher is teaching a bible study class...and not in a high school.

This kind of thing is so very common in small town schools where outing yourself as a non-believer has serious consequences of your life from then on out. Shame, ridicule, you name it. Your friends aren't your friends anymore and their parents won't let you hang out. Try going to college with the notion that science is bullshit and God is fact in regards to that. See how that works out. (Hint: not so much, yeah. It doesn't.)
posted by youandiandaflame at 7:28 AM on July 6, 2012 [17 favorites]


•No. 2 — “The termination of a public school teacher’s employment contract based on the mere [presence of religious texts from the school’s library and/or the display of a patriotic poster cannot be legally justified, as it constitutes and impermissible violation of the rights of a teacher and his students to free speech and academic freedom under the First Amendment to the United States Constitution and a manifestation of hostility toward religion in violation of the First Amendment’s Establishment Clause.”

It's been well established in case law that the first amendment protections generally only apply to private actors and not state actors. State actors have heavy restrictions on their first amendment rights (which is also backed up by case law allowing the government to restrict itself) in order to force state actors to remain constitutional when you're dealing with cases like this where a state actor seeks to make a run around the establishment clause.

Even if some midwest supreme court does decide to take a stand for good old fashioned conservative beliefs, this will be open and shut if it makes it into the federal system with the writ of certiorari from SCOTUS accepted and immediately coming back with "are you retarded?" a'la Scalia's hilarious American Tradition Partnership v Montana smackdown.
posted by Talez at 7:29 AM on July 6, 2012


"[Freshwater has ...] an Associate's degree in Recreation and Wildlife from Hocking College."
It all makes sense now. Dude thought he was tagging the kids for tracking.
posted by octobersurprise at 7:36 AM on July 6, 2012


His class stopped being a science class as soon as christian doctrine appeared.
posted by scruss at 7:38 AM on July 6, 2012 [4 favorites]


Of the two propositions of law listed below the fold, only #2 has any bearing on this case. #1 falls short due to the fact that the school did give clear indication and told Freshwater to stop teaching creationism, but he refused. Why would the Ohio supremes ignore that fact and take this case?
As for #2, I agree that simply keeping a bible on his desk isn't grounds for termination or any other disciplinary action.
posted by rocket88 at 7:40 AM on July 6, 2012


That's a few million dollars that could have gone to education, pissed away on this useless bag of water and salts.

The cynic in me suspects the god-botherers are perfectly happy to see education sacrificed. Dumb children make great believers.
posted by five fresh fish at 7:49 AM on July 6, 2012 [7 favorites]


As for #2, I agree that simply keeping a bible on his desk isn't grounds for termination or any other disciplinary action.

It certainly is and should be grounds for termination.

Engel v. Vitale. The mere promotion of a religion by a state actor in a public school is enough to establish a violation of the establishment clause even if that promotion is not coercive.

State actors that refuse to obey the constitution need to be removed as state actors. Simple as that.
posted by Talez at 7:54 AM on July 6, 2012 [2 favorites]


Engel v. Vitale. The mere promotion of a religion by a state actor in a public school is enough to establish a violation of the establishment clause even if that promotion is not coercive.

The keeping of a Bible on one's desk does not necessarily rise to the level of "promotion of religion."
posted by valkyryn at 7:59 AM on July 6, 2012 [2 favorites]


For a book on his desk? Seriously?
posted by rocket88 at 8:00 AM on July 6, 2012


Yea, I can't say having the book rises to "promotion of a religion". Would the same thing apply to someone saying I was pushing Stephen King or promoting horror novels on kids if I brought in my copy of a Dark Tower novel?

Now, that said, the moment he brings up the content of said religious book to a kid without an acceptable scientific context (lord knows what that could be, I'll leave it to the courts to decide) he should be toast.
posted by RolandOfEld at 8:03 AM on July 6, 2012


One of my English teachers in high school kept a bible on her desk. Several, in fact.

Of course, she was teaching a class (mostly designed by students in my hippie public school) on the bible in literature and history.
posted by rtha at 8:05 AM on July 6, 2012


Yeah, it's a much different matter for a lit teacher compared to a science teacher.
posted by kmz at 8:07 AM on July 6, 2012


It's a SCIENCE class in a PUBLIC SCHOOL.

Is the teacher tenured? Isn't the basic idea of tenure the protection of teachers who pursue unpopular lines of inquiry?

This kind of thing is so very common in small town schools where outing yourself as a non-believer has serious consequences of your life from then on out. Shame, ridicule, you name it.

Is not tenure a refuge for these teachers as well?
posted by three blind mice at 8:08 AM on July 6, 2012


just drop all the first-amendment stuff and don't even raise the issue

The constitutional issue is already out there and must be addressed. The "hostility toward religion" narrative has been widely promulgated by religious right legal activists. This narrative distorts the debate on religious liberty issues. The religious right sees any restriction on their ability to use government to promote their religious views (or hinder others) as being "hostile to religion."
posted by audi alteram partem at 8:09 AM on July 6, 2012 [2 favorites]


The keeping of a Bible on one's desk does not necessarily rise to the level of "promotion of religion."

Lemon test.

1) The government's action must have a secular legislative purpose;
2) The government's action must not have the primary effect of either advancing or inhibiting religion;
3) The government's action must not result in an "excessive government entanglement" with religion.


It fails one and two. Clear violation of establishment clause.
posted by Talez at 8:10 AM on July 6, 2012 [2 favorites]


Isn't the basic idea of tenure the protection of teachers who pursue unpopular lines of inquiry?

Not necessarily. Especially if the school board has repeatedly said "Teach this curriculum, not that one." And where the one not allowed to be taught pushes a specific religious agenda.
posted by rtha at 8:12 AM on July 6, 2012


Personally I think if I were a science teacher and were reading the Bible on my morning commute or whatever I would pretty consciously put the thing in my bag or a drawer or something rather than leaving it out on the desk, because it seems weird, but I'm not sure I would think it was a violation of the establishment clause.
posted by shakespeherian at 8:15 AM on July 6, 2012


If I was a teacher in a public school and I had a bible on my desk it would imply that I as a state actor endorse that religion.

If he was using it for the class in a secular way, fine. If it's just because he likes to read the bible during his downtime, that's also fine but it should get put in a drawer when he isn't reading it.

There isn't a constitutional prohibition against promoting Steven King unless or until there forms some kind of religion based on his works.
posted by VTX at 8:15 AM on July 6, 2012 [1 favorite]


Is the teacher tenured? Isn't the basic idea of tenure the protection of teachers who pursue unpopular lines of inquiry?

As far as I know, tenure isn't a thing for pre-college level public school teachers.

Also, creationism isn't "unpopular lines of inquiry". Creationism is religion, and it does not belong in public schools.

Do you also believe we should teach flat earth in Geology class? Astrology in Astronomy class?
posted by kmz at 8:15 AM on July 6, 2012 [7 favorites]


Lemon test.

1) The government's action must have a secular legislative purpose;
2) The government's action must not have the primary effect of either advancing or inhibiting religion;
3) The government's action must not result in an "excessive government entanglement" with religion.

It fails one and two. Clear violation of establishment clause.


Really? That's gonna be a tough sell. Hard to say that this has any kind of "legislative purpose," secular or otherwise. And "primary effect"?

Look, I know you really want this to be a problem, but the courts aren't nearly as hostile to public displays of religion--even in public schools!--as you want them to be. Deal with it.
posted by valkyryn at 8:16 AM on July 6, 2012 [2 favorites]


hostile to public displays of religion

"Public" is another term that confuses Establishment Clause issues. Those who defend a strict separation of church and state are not hostile to public displays of religion. They oppose using the government to promote religion. "Public" does not equal "government." T. Jeremy Gunn's essay "Clothes Encounters in the Public Square" has a good treatment of this issue [pdf].
posted by audi alteram partem at 8:25 AM on July 6, 2012 [1 favorite]


Really? That's gonna be a tough sell. Hard to say that this has any kind of "legislative purpose," secular or otherwise. And "primary effect"?

McCreary County v. ACLU, display of the ten commandments in isolation was considered unconstitutional using the lemon test.
posted by Talez at 8:26 AM on July 6, 2012 [1 favorite]


Well, our Ohio Supreme Court is definitely "packed" - 6 Republicans & 1 Democrat, with the Chief Justice being Maureen O'Connor, who was Lieutenant Governor under Bob Taft (our former governor connected with the Coingate scandal and convicted of corruption, see here.) But who knows - as far as I can tell their rulings have been fairly dispassionate & not super-activist.

I Am Hardly A Lawyer, but proposition #1 seems pretty ridiculous on two counts:

". . . the school board has not provided any clear indication as the kinds of materials or teaching methods which are unacceptable . . . ", which they have - there are absolutely are standard texts, that's the whole damn point of a state school board, plus in Feb 2006 they voted to retract a lesson plan that was sympathetic to the "Teach The Controversy" idea. Those seem like pretty clear indications of "acceptable materials" to me.

" . . . manifestation of hostility toward religion in violation of the First Amendment’s Establishment Clause." Which, that's not really how the First Amendment works, is it?

Proposition #2 has an interesting bit in it (emphasis mine): " . . .the mere presence of religious texts from the school’s library and/or the display of a patriotic poster. . . " I can't find anything anywhere about Freshwater getting fired due to a "patriotic poster", or even that he had one in his classroom. So this seems like a bit of a stunt to equate Christianity with patriotism.

I can think of a couple of reasons why the Ohio Supreme Court might have have accepted this case - he's a pest who's already cost the state hundreds of thousands of dollars, and they want to shut him down once and for all, and (possibly) a bit of long-range conservative activism, where if they rule that Freshwater's firing was legit, it doesn't narrow the circumstances under which a teacher can be fired, and a wide range of "fireable offenses" could also be useful to get rid of liberal teachers. Maybe that second reason's a bit of a reach.
posted by soundguy99 at 8:28 AM on July 6, 2012


Having a Bible on one's desk is more like wearing a religious symbol on your lapel, or something than it is like telling other people what they believe. This is actually a really thorny first amendment issue, and it's the kind of fight that Freshwater probably wishes he was waging. While there are those who might say that this is a "clear" first amendment violation, there's a compelling freedom of expression argument, as well. So while there may be circumstances where the Bible on the desk is a first amendment violation, it's not (in my estimation) presumptively so.
posted by MoonOrb at 8:28 AM on July 6, 2012 [1 favorite]


If I was a teacher in a public school and I had a bible on my desk it would imply that I as a state actor endorse that religion.

I'm not so sure you can prove that the mere presence of an object on a desk amounts to active endorsement. The most I think you can prove is that the person to whom the desk belongs looks favorably upon that topic, but there's no way to prove that the owner of the desk is therefore actively endorsing that topic to other people.

I mean, I'm sure a teacher somewhere has Arizona Iced Tea on their desk, but no one thinks that means the teacher is trying to therefore get kids to drink the stuff.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 8:28 AM on July 6, 2012


The distinction between a case like McCreary County and the hypothetical "Bible on a desk" case is that you lose the individual freedom of expression aspect. In McCreary County, it was the government itself putting up the Ten Commandments, not an individual person. I'd suggest that's a meaningful difference, and why a Bible on a desk, without more, is not "clearly" something that would violate the first amendment under Lemon.
posted by MoonOrb at 8:31 AM on July 6, 2012


The display of the Ten Commandments in a public courthouse is not the same thing as keeping a Bible on one's desk.

Are there some similarities? Arguably. Is it the same thing? No.

Look, I understand the argument. I happen to think it's wrong, but I understand it.

What I don't understand is your inability to appreciate (1) that the law isn't as clear cut on this point as you want it to be, and (2) the counter-argument that keeping religious materials on one's desk, an area which is routinely used to display personal artifacts such as family pictures, etc., is fundamentally different than putting up a poster or carving religious laws in stone.
posted by valkyryn at 8:31 AM on July 6, 2012 [2 favorites]


Seriously, just drop all the first-amendment stuff and don't even raise the issue (the media will raise it a-plenty anyway) and focus on the branding kids' arms with crosses because what in the actual fuck i don't even

That's just straight-up assault and would be an open-and-shut case.


This. Why the ever-living fuck are we even discussing the free speech aspect?
posted by odinsdream at 8:32 AM on July 6, 2012 [1 favorite]


There isn't a constitutional prohibition against promoting Steven King unless or until there forms some kind of religion based on his works.

So I'm going to infer from the way this is worded that, in your opinion, having the novel on his desk would be promoting said novel and/or author. That's fine and is completely consistent with your disagreement with him having that other book on his desk based upon it being a violation of the establishment clause.

I just disagree that it's a promotion, in either case, I suppose. The slippery slope that way leads to people not being able to wear a crucifix or St. Christopher medal either lest it fall out of their shirt and influence someone by it's presence. But that's an aside and not really fair to delve into lest we sidetrack [and on preview I like EmpressCallipygos's Tea comparison better]. I just think it's missing the point here because he burned and preached to the kids. Crying foul on everyone who may have laid a non-textbook on their desk for promoting religion or being a corporate shill for some topic/author/brand is missing the forest for the trees.

I'm an agnostic, nearly atheist, person who grew up in deep south, so whatever that means.
posted by RolandOfEld at 8:34 AM on July 6, 2012


Why the ever-living fuck are we even discussing the free speech aspect?

Two reasons.

First, Freshwater made it an issue on appeal.

Second, it's hard to tell from the record, but the school district might have made it one in its deliberations on terminating him.

Look, people, Freshwater has to win on both points to get reinstated or probably even to recover anything at all. I can see the Ohio S. Ct. ruling for him on the First Amendment issue but affirming his termination on the other one.
posted by valkyryn at 8:35 AM on July 6, 2012 [1 favorite]


As far as I know, tenure isn't a thing for pre-college level public school teachers.

Of course it is. Public school teachers (K-12) receive tenure after a certain number of years in a school system, and generally, evaluation procedures (and with it, how to dismiss a teacher) are different for tenured vs. non-tenured faculty.

Perhaps there is somewhere in the US that tenure doesn't exist (?), but it certainly does in most places. It's one of the reasons many right-wing people loathe teachers' unions.
posted by lysimache at 8:36 AM on July 6, 2012 [3 favorites]


Is the teacher tenured? Isn't the basic idea of tenure the protection of teachers who pursue unpopular lines of inquiry?

Eighth-grade public school teachers aren't tenured. Elementary public education is about providing the framework and the basics, anyway. Going afield of the core curricula is acceptable in secondary education, when students are capable of dealing with the competing ideas (and they are there on their own time). That's why tenure exists.
posted by Benny Andajetz at 8:36 AM on July 6, 2012


This. Why the ever-living fuck are we even discussing the free speech aspect?

Because this is the way Freshwater has framed his argument on appeal, so we have to discuss it. It's the argument he's making.
posted by MoonOrb at 8:37 AM on July 6, 2012


Is the AP photo in the second link from the guy's actual classroom? It shows a crucifix, but the Wiki article says he's an Assemblies of God member--not likely to use a crucifix, right?
posted by resurrexit at 8:39 AM on July 6, 2012


Of course it is. Public school teachers (K-12) receive tenure after a certain number of years in a school system, and generally, evaluation procedures (and with it, how to dismiss a teacher) are different for tenured vs. non-tenured faculty.

They aren't tenured in the sense that they can teach their own curriculum.
posted by Benny Andajetz at 8:39 AM on July 6, 2012 [1 favorite]


What I don't understand is your inability to appreciate (1) that the law isn't as clear cut on this point as you want it to be, and (2) the counter-argument that keeping religious materials on one's desk, an area which is routinely used to display personal artifacts such as family pictures, etc., is fundamentally different than putting up a poster or carving religious laws in stone.

Because with kids there is an expectation of implicit coercion at work. It's why they stopped voluntary prayer in school and why the voluntary aspect didn't fly in the first place. It's why they keep shutting down any attempts to back door religion into schools.
posted by Talez at 8:40 AM on July 6, 2012


The Bible displayed on the desk did not occur in a vacuum. Freshwater demonstrated a pattern of behavior that raised concerns about Establishment Clause violations. That link includes quotes from the mother of the student whose arm was burned with a Tesla coil, and it describes how Freshwater surveyed his students on their religious beliefs.
posted by audi alteram partem at 8:40 AM on July 6, 2012


" . . .the mere presence of religious texts from the school’s library and/or the display of a patriotic poster. . ." I can't find anything anywhere about Freshwater getting fired due to a "patriotic poster", or even that he had one in his classroom. So this seems like a bit of a stunt to equate Christianity with patriotism.

Bear in mind who is describing it as a patriotic poster. That's somewhat of a handwavey way to discuss actual content, and makes me wonder if the wording on the poster was "God and Country" or some such that was likely to indicate an endorsement of religion.
posted by jaduncan at 8:41 AM on July 6, 2012


In Ohio, public school teachers can be tenured (see this (from an anti-union site, BTW)). It's difficult to fire a tenured teacher, but not impossible.
posted by tuesdayschild at 8:41 AM on July 6, 2012


The most I think you can prove is that the person to whom the desk belongs looks favorably upon that topic

I'm not even sure that's true. Jerry Coyne is (was?) reading through the Bible right now and occasionally posting about it on his blog, and so far he thinks it's pretty shitty. It's not impossible to imagine a scenario in which he comes into class late and just sets down his day's reading on his desk.

Obviously this isn't the case with Freshwater, I'm just sayin'.
posted by shakespeherian at 8:42 AM on July 6, 2012


I had a high school biology teacher who actually used to show "creation science" films in class and then quiz us on the scientific and methodological mistakes therein.

You'd imagine there'd be an uproar about a teacher actually attacking "religious beliefs" in class, but this was of course a Catholic high school.
posted by infinitywaltz at 8:42 AM on July 6, 2012 [2 favorites]


Bear in mind who is describing it as a patriotic poster. That's somewhat of a handwavey way to discuss actual content, and makes me wonder if the wording on the poster was "God and Country" or some such that was likely to indicate an endorsement of religion.

And indeed, on digging a bit:

"School officials said he also put religious posters in his classroom, quizzed students on their religious beliefs and even offered “healing” services at meetings of the Fellowship of Christian Athletes."
posted by jaduncan at 8:44 AM on July 6, 2012 [1 favorite]


All public school teachers in the U.S., at all levels, can and do receive tenure. I can't believe that anyone who was a student in the U.S. public school system doesn't know this.
posted by tzikeh at 8:44 AM on July 6, 2012


("can and do" = "can, and do if they last that long.")
posted by tzikeh at 8:44 AM on July 6, 2012


If the bible on the desk was the only issue, I don't think I would have such a big problem with it but the fact that he refused to remove it from his desk when told to by his boss makes it an issue, especially when combined with everything else.

But let's say, for the sake of argument, that having a bible on his desk is the only issue. That, in and of itself, doesn't mean that he is promoting his religion any more than having Iced Tea on his desk promotes that brand of Iced Tea. Maybe he likes to read it in his off time and set on his desk because it's convenient. That's fine but when his boss asks him to remove it (presumably he has a the kind of desk that has drawers) and he refuses, I think it becomes pretty clear that he puts it on his desk because he is promoting that religion and/or Iced Tea.
posted by VTX at 8:59 AM on July 6, 2012 [3 favorites]


He was also accused of burning the image of a cross on students' arms.

I was kind of hoping the article would explain then why he isn't, you know, in prison.
posted by XQUZYPHYR at 9:00 AM on July 6, 2012 [3 favorites]


VTX: Fair enough, we're of a like mindset I think.
posted by RolandOfEld at 9:02 AM on July 6, 2012


Also, just from the litany of issues in this one article, it seems like this is a really spectacularly dumb hill for the hard right to try and defend religious liberty on. "I want to put a cross on my sidewalk that is technically part of public property" is a potential rallying matter. "This teacher appears to be crazy and should probably not be around children in general" is less so.

I accept my own personal biases here, but this lawsuit reads like an incompetent person suing to keep his job on the grounds that he loves Jesus.
posted by XQUZYPHYR at 9:04 AM on July 6, 2012


Ah, thanks for the digging, jaduncan. And yeah, Bear in mind who is describing it as a patriotic poster was pretty much my point, although you put it much more succinctly.

Panda's Thumb post and discussion of this development, which points out that this may be another Discovery Institute ploy - connected with "Academic Freedom" bills, where (to quote the Panda's Thumb post), "It would empower a science teacher to teach any damn fool thing he or she wanted to teach unless the Board of Education has provided a “clear indication” otherwise."
posted by soundguy99 at 9:07 AM on July 6, 2012 [1 favorite]


I accept my own personal biases here, but this lawsuit reads like an incompetent mentally ill person suing to keep his job on the grounds that he loves Jesus.

He burns crosses into the arms of students that leave welts and burns. His stated defence is that it wasn't a religious cross, it was an X. Either way, branding one's school students is quite suggestive of a lack of restraint to an extent that points to mental illness.
posted by jaduncan at 9:08 AM on July 6, 2012


"As far as I know, tenure isn't a thing for pre-college level public school teachers."

Public school teachers do receive tenure, at least in most states. In Illinois, you become tenured after four years of teaching in the same district. Teacher tenure primarily arose to protect the largely-female teaching corps from the whims of the largely-male administration and school boards (like firing them for getting married! Or, God forbid, PREGNANT.), and to prevent teachers from being fired because of personal vendettas, etc., of the sort that can easily happen in small, highly-interconnected communities.

On the other hand, you end up with situations where it takes several years and $900,000 to fire a teacher who clearly needs to be fired. (Although because public schools are government actors, employees generally have due process rights when fired, no matter what.)

I have been through several firings of tenured teachers, including one where it took us two full years to fire him when he refused to show up for work more than 30% of the time and refused to teach when he did come to work. That was the fastest possible firing at the time unless you got "indicated" by DCFS (i.e., you committed child abuse) or convicted of a felony. A new state law has accelerated the speed for releasing tenured teachers with unsatisfactory ratings, which we used on something like seven teachers this past school year? But it's being litigated, of course, so it'll be a few years before we know how that comes out.

FWIW, as a school board member, if a teacher just had a Bible on his desk, I wouldn't consider that a firing issue, but I would support his administrator asking him to keep it in a drawer. The question would be whether it was his personal reading material that he was just setting down on his desk, or whether it was part of his classroom display. And if the teacher decided it was the hill he wanted to die on, it would definitely be the sort of thing we'd get grieved for by the union and then sued. I'd probably support litigating it, but it would cost an awful lot to litigate.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 9:08 AM on July 6, 2012 [8 favorites]


Pretty ironic and ballsy to use "academic freedom" as a defense.

It's a close cousin of the rhetorical device that bigots like to deploy when they announce that anyone who challenges their [racism/sexism/homophobia/etc.] is just "intolerant."
posted by scody at 9:09 AM on July 6, 2012


tzikeh: "All public school teachers in the U.S., at all levels, can and do receive tenure. I can't believe that anyone who was a student in the U.S. public school system doesn't know this."

I can't speak for all 50 states, but Virginia came within a hair of killing it a few months ago.

Also, tenure is already a lot less meaningful in a "right to work" state.
posted by schmod at 9:09 AM on July 6, 2012 [1 favorite]


It appears he wasn't fired merely for having a bible on his desk, but for abusing his position to promote his religious views -- in a public school. I agree that if he had just had a bible on his desk, nobody would have thought anything of it, and this would not be an Establishment Clause issue. However, in the broader context the District was protecting itself from a lawsuit. You'd better believe that if a teacher of my daughter behaved like this, and the School Board became aware of it and did nothing, I'd be filing a lawsuit.
posted by JKevinKing at 9:11 AM on July 6, 2012 [1 favorite]


BTW, this: "The termination of a public school teacher’s employment contract based on the teacher’s use of academic freedom where the school board has not provided any clear indication as the kinds of materials or teaching methods which are unacceptable cannot be legally justified"

sounds like union contract language. It's probably meant to prevent things like English teachers from being fired for teaching "Beloved" when the school board finds out after the fact that there are bad words and adult situations in "Beloved." That is, it's probably meant to require school boards to give notice that you are Not Allowed To Teach Books With The N Word before firing teachers for teaching classics of literature with the N-word in them.

I sincerely doubt it applies in this case. And I expect the union leadership and lawyers were like, "Seriously? We have to act like we're defending this guy? Seriously???"
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 9:15 AM on July 6, 2012


The question would be whether it was his personal reading material that he was just setting down on his desk, or whether it was part of his classroom display.

My guess is that if had actually read the thing, he probably wouldn't have been such a dick about taking it off his desk (or be such a dick more generally). I'd bet that's true for most of the people who represent the Christian right.
posted by VTX at 9:16 AM on July 6, 2012 [2 favorites]


Freshwater said he was offered a financial settlement, but defense attorney Moore said “There was no settlement offer to accept or reject. There was no money on the table for [Freshwater] to leave there. We were baffled when we received the e-mail from him and we can't even begin to speculate why he is saying what he is saying.” (from Wiki article)

Lying attention whore? Thinks he's a martyr?

It also sounds like "branded" might be a slightly alarmist description of a mark that lasted three to four weeks.

I don't care if the mark only lasted for 60 seconds. In a world where a kindergarten teacher can hardly put an arm around a crying child without censure, this dickwad ought to have his head handed to him on a plate. With parsley.
posted by BlueHorse at 9:24 AM on July 6, 2012 [2 favorites]


I gotta say, if I was a reasonable person who thinks there's a place for a Bible-reading teacher in public schools, I'd be pretty pissed that this guy was our flag carrier.
posted by MCMikeNamara at 9:24 AM on July 6, 2012 [1 favorite]


ought to have his head handed to him on a plate. With parsley.

Just so you know I am totally stealing this expression.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 9:26 AM on July 6, 2012 [4 favorites]


It is sad he isn't in prison, given that he burned crosses on students’ arms during science experiments
posted by localhuman at 9:27 AM on July 6, 2012


It is sad he isn't in prison, given that he burned crosses on students’ arms during science experiments

They were just the letter X, not a religious cross. Don't oppress him by claiming they were crosses! Support him going to prison for burning the letter X on people.
posted by jaduncan at 9:29 AM on July 6, 2012 [2 favorites]


it seems like this is a really spectacularly dumb hill for the hard right to try and defend religious liberty on

This isn't something "the hard right" seems to have had a hand in. Not in any kind of organized way. As far as I can tell, it's just this guy and his lawyer, who runs a "firm" so sketchy he uses a freaking ISP email address. Seriously, his filings in federal court go to an sbcglobal.net account.

To paraphrase, "Do not impute to collective deliberation what can be accounted for by individual stupidity."

I don't think this is a hill anyone but Freshwater and his attorney want to die on.
posted by valkyryn at 9:31 AM on July 6, 2012 [1 favorite]


Also, who fucking burns children? Regardless of his Lord stuff, this man need some serious help.
posted by localhuman at 9:34 AM on July 6, 2012 [2 favorites]


Yeah, I love the fact that his argument is, "I didn't brand a cross onto a kid, I branded an X onto him." As if that makes it okay.

If that was my kid, my defense would be, "I didn't break the guy's jaw, I just moved my fist in a rapid motion toward his general area, and his face got in my way."
posted by nushustu at 9:36 AM on July 6, 2012 [2 favorites]


More accurately I think it would be, "I didn't smite his face with God's righteous fury, I just punched him and broke his jaw."
posted by VTX at 9:39 AM on July 6, 2012 [1 favorite]


I don't think this is a hill anyone but Freshwater and his attorney want to die on.

Never say no one when there is an internet.
posted by shakespeherian at 9:39 AM on July 6, 2012


shakespeherian, that site is kinda awesome.

"The Obamacare decision will lead to tyranny against the American people on a scale never before seen in our nation's history.

Only idiots do not see that Obamacare is a thing born in the fiery pit of hell."

We're sure it's not parody, right?
posted by jaduncan at 9:42 AM on July 6, 2012


whether it was his personal reading material that he was just setting down on his desk

Quoting from a Panda's Thumb summary of Day 3 of the original administrative hearing,

"Millstone asked about the two books Freshwater checked out of the middle school library and placed on his science table in the classroom. They were a Bible and a book titled “Jesus of Nazareth.” Asked why he had them there, Freshwater responded that since he’d been instructed to keep his own Bible out of sight during class time and had not done so, he was afraid he’d come into his classroom some morning and find his own Bible gone and wanted the other available since the Bible is his inspiration. He did not recall saying he had them there to “make a point” as the independent investigator’s report alleged.

He recalled the middle school principal telling him that it would be insubordination to fail to comply with the instruction to keep his Bible out of sight during class hours, but then said he didn’t think it was insubordination."

So, y'know, it wasn't his actual, personal Bible, oh noes . . . HE GOT IT OUT OF THE SCHOOL LIBRARY U GUYS IT WAS THE SCHOOL'S BOOK WHAT'S WRONG WITH PUTTING THE SCHOOL'S BOOK ON THE DESK HIS PERSONAL BIBLE WAS HIDDEN IN THE DRAWER JUST LIKE THE PRINCIPAL TOLD HIM TO !!!11!!1!

So, (on preview), I'd actually disagree with valkyryn - this level of before-hand rules-lawyering suggests strongly to me that this whole thing may be a Discovery Institute/Rutherford Institute set-up designed to get "teach the controversy" back in the public eye and in front of a possibly sympathetic court or school board.
posted by soundguy99 at 9:43 AM on July 6, 2012


We're sure it's not parody, right?

I had to look long and hard at it before deciding.
posted by shakespeherian at 9:46 AM on July 6, 2012


I wonder if he considered the fact that the Bible he checked out of the school's library was one less Bible available for some kid who wanted to check one out.

The irony, it stings...
posted by RolandOfEld at 9:47 AM on July 6, 2012


This isn't something "the hard right" seems to have had a hand in.

Freshwater may not be represented by the ACLJ or the Thomas More Law Center, but he is using narratives that the religious right has long cultivated, such as:
The [Texas GOP] distorts constitutional restrictions on displaying religious symbols in government buildings when it expresses opposition to “any governmental action to restrict, prohibit, or remove public display of the Decalogue or other religious symbols.” (P-7) Americans have long had the right to display – openly and publicly – the Ten Commandments and other religious symbols on their own property.
posted by audi alteram partem at 9:47 AM on July 6, 2012


he is using narratives that the religious right has long cultivated

Yeah, but that's neither here nor there. The question was why "the hard right," presumably as a group, would have chosen this particular hill to die on. My suggestion was that regardless of how he's pitching his arguments, he's functionally acting alone.
posted by valkyryn at 9:55 AM on July 6, 2012


From Shakespeherian's link: "Mr. Johnson's appeal is still pending in the courts, and the Thomas More Law Center has vowed to take it to the Supreme Court, if necessary."

It would appear that he is, in fact, being defended by the Thomas More Law Center. When and how they got involved, I don't know. He probably got fired all by himself but the TMLC has apparently climbed up the hill to die with him. If this gets to the SCOTUS, I don't doubt that we'll see plenty of even more prominent conservative right representatives climb up there too.
posted by VTX at 10:08 AM on July 6, 2012


On the whole "bible on the desk" issue — there's a difference between his front desk in the classroom and his private desk in his office (every teacher I knew had a separate desk off somewhere). All kinds of personal items would be kept on the private desk, but it would be weird to see family pictures or religious items on the classroom desk.
posted by benito.strauss at 10:09 AM on July 6, 2012 [1 favorite]


"two books Freshwater checked out of the middle school library and placed on his science table in the classroom. They were a Bible and a book titled “Jesus of Nazareth.” "

emphasis mine.
posted by soundguy99 at 10:12 AM on July 6, 2012 [1 favorite]


regardless of how he's pitching his arguments, he's functionally acting alone.

His actions can't be separated from the attitudes and beliefs that motivate them, and those attitudes derive from conservative activists who offer interpretations of constitutional law under the banner of "religious liberty" but in reality seek to establish a narrow set of conservative Christian ideas in the government.
posted by audi alteram partem at 10:17 AM on July 6, 2012


a manifestation of hostility toward religion in violation of the First Amendment’s Establishment Clause


Ah. If this guy were a Muslim, then, presumably all the same people who are defending him now would still be defending him, for the same reasons.

it constitutes an impermissible violation of the rights of the teacher and his students to free speech


Ah. If this guy were openly gay and speaking freely about it, then, presumably all the same people who are defending him now would still be defending him, for the same reasons.
posted by Sing Or Swim at 10:19 AM on July 6, 2012 [2 favorites]


On the whole "bible on the desk" issue — there's a difference between his front desk in the classroom and his private desk in his office (every teacher I knew had a separate desk off somewhere). All kinds of personal items would be kept on the private desk, but it would be weird to see family pictures or religious items on the classroom desk.

I think the arguments about the desk aren't coming from a perspective of "we believe this is an innocently-intended thing", they're coming from a perspective of "okay, I know it and you know it, but can it stand up in a court of law?" Sometimes even if something is blindingly obvious to the layman, if you look at the letter of the law it becomes way more porous.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 10:20 AM on July 6, 2012 [1 favorite]


His actions can't be separated from the attitudes and beliefs that motivate them, and those attitudes derive from conservative activists who offer interpretations of constitutional law under the banner of "religious liberty" but in reality seek to establish a narrow set of conservative Christian ideas in the government.

So it's okay to say that all Muslims are terrorists because some of them are?

Seriously, think about what you're saying here.
posted by valkyryn at 10:21 AM on July 6, 2012


this dickwad ought to have his head handed to him on a plate. With parsley.
posted by BlueHorse


"John Freshwater" does inescapably remind a person of John the Baptist, doesn't it?

And I don't doubt he sees himself as a 'type', in the biblical sense, of that John, or that he sees what's happening to him as parallel to the events of the ministry of that John including his martyrdom, and with branding as a stand-in for baptism, and is in his mind a vindication of Scripture in and of itself.

Here's
what seems to be a photo of the brand in question, but I can't find an explicit statement to that effect, nor any clue about how long after the act it was taken.

The First Amendment has always looked to me as if it was intended to guarantee freedom for religion rather than freedom from religion.
posted by jamjam at 10:24 AM on July 6, 2012 [1 favorite]


So taxpayers money pay for his salary yet he thinks he can have freedom of speech and assault?

Didn't know those two things were part of the line item in the budget.

Wonder if he wants to meet Jesus personally thanks to a few irrate parents?
posted by stormpooper at 10:27 AM on July 6, 2012


Re: premeditation, it seems equally likely, if not more so, that the guy who brands kids with superheated wire is simply a titanic asshole.
posted by Holy Zarquon's Singing Fish at 10:29 AM on July 6, 2012


And I bet that's not even his real name. That's his Christian porno name (take an author of the Bible's first name and then a miracle as a last name. BAM! Christian porno name)
posted by stormpooper at 10:33 AM on July 6, 2012 [5 favorites]


the guy who brands kids with superheated wire

Just for clarity's sake it wasn't a superheated wire, it was a Tesla coil. For what it's worth, and take this how you will, I'm pretty sure if it was superheated wire I think he'd be in jail right now.

The wikipedia link on John that someone linked above is helpful since the other articles really didn't make it clear.
posted by RolandOfEld at 10:34 AM on July 6, 2012


Ah. If this guy were a Muslim, then, presumably all the same people who are defending him now would still be defending him, for the same reasons.

I've been looking for a place to link this all day.
posted by shakespeherian at 10:35 AM on July 6, 2012 [4 favorites]


I think the arguments about the desk aren't coming from a perspective of "we believe this is an innocently-intended thing", they're coming from a perspective of "okay, I know it and you know it, but can it stand up in a court of law?" Sometimes even if something is blindingly obvious to the layman, if you look at the letter of the law it becomes way more porous.

I'm not sure really how the phrase "innocently-intended" works here--I think we can all agree that in the "Bible on the desk" hypothetical, the Bible is there because the teacher is a True Believer Who Wants Everyone To Know. Very similar to wearing a necklace or lapel pin with a cross on it. It's an outward expression of that person's religious beliefs.

As far as I can see, the main difference between the clearly visible lapel pin/necklace and the Bible on the desk is that the jewelry stays confined to the person, while the Bible is, I guess, sitting there on public property? That distinction is not likely not significant enough to consider the Bible on the desk an Establishment Clause violation. (And, yes, if you combine the Bible on the desk with all kinds of other crap that the teacher does, like attempting to teach creationism, then there could be an Establishment Clause violation).

Anyway, what I mean to say is that deciding the issue of intent isn't necessarily dispositive. If it's obvious that the Bible is there because it's a text for a literature class, or it's there temporarily, or it's been read for fun (?), or whatever, then the matter is closed, and it would be stupid to say there's an Establishment Clause problem. But even if the Bible is there so everyone in the classroom knows that the teacher is a Christian, that doesn't resolve it, either. There's still the Freedom of Expression issue to deal with, and if we're simply talking about a teacher deliberately putting a Bible on his desk, that's not an obvious and clearcut First Amendment violation.
posted by MoonOrb at 10:41 AM on July 6, 2012 [1 favorite]


So it's okay to say that all Muslims are terrorists because some of them are?

Seriously, think about what you're saying here.


valkyryn, I do think about what I'm saying, just as I make the good faith assumption that you think about what you're saying. If you disagree with my argument, I'd be glad to hear your viewpoint, though I don't think you accurately see my position.

I don't believe that all Muslims are terrorists because some of them are. I'm not sure how you see a similar line of thought mapping onto my position here: that I think all Christians favor some form of religious government? I've only mentioned organizations that have publicly argued for a closer integration of religion and state than I'm comfortable with, so I don't see how you can say I'm overgeneralizing to the extent of all Christians. Indeed, I linked to the AU which is headed by a Protestant minister. If it isn't clear, let me state that I don't think all Christians believe as Freshwater does or that they wish to use the machinery of the state to promote their beliefs. I don't even think all "conservative" Christians (for various definitions of conservative) agree with Freshwater or the legal activists of the religious right.

I have tried in my comments in this thread to draw connections between the concrete textual evidence of Freshwater's filing, as quoted in the OP, and particular lines of argument favored by particular conservative Christian advocacy and law groups (the ACLJ and the Thomas More Law Center, along with the discussion of religion from the Texas GOP were the examples I named, and they are the type of Christian I'm focused on, not all Christians).
posted by audi alteram partem at 10:43 AM on July 6, 2012 [1 favorite]


I'm wondering how Freshwater is viewed around town. Are they rallying behind him or siding with the school board? How many of those school board members do you think will still be on said board when re-election time rolls around?

I don't know, I know it's not really relevant but as someone who lives in a small town where a teacher doing this would not even make it to the radar of the school district because JESUS, Y'ALL! I'm infinitely interested in this case. Reading through all the replies and links herein, I keep wondering if there's been rallies for Freshwater within city limits because that's sure as shit what'd happen here. When you live in a town that boasts 7 churches that have banded together to buy up the four allotted liquor licenses for the place because they don't want no beers up in here, I'm wondering about the dynamic between the school, Freshwater, and the citizens of the town now. When your town has a board (school and city) stacked with members of the Baptist church on the corner, voted there by all the many other members of that church with no chance for anything else in sight, it makes sense that things like evolution aren't taught in schools because there really are very few to stand up and say "Uh dudes, THIS IS FUCKING SCIENCE CLASS, NOT SUNDAY SCHOOL!" because you'll be branded as one of those crazy leftist, communist, progressives -- yes, all the same here and yes, evolution is considered a progressive ideal and not, you know, fact.
posted by youandiandaflame at 10:44 AM on July 6, 2012 [3 favorites]


Quoting a pro-Intelligent-Design website (here), "The media in Florida are all aflutter this week on a bill introduced into the state legislature by state senator Ronda Storms, called the Academic Freedom Bill. Discovery Institute has recommended such legislation in the past. We even maintain a website at www.academicfreedompetition.com that has a model of an academic freedom bill. So we're happy that Storms has taken the ball and run with it." Emphasis mine.

The Academic Freedom Petition website referenced above. From the "about" page, "The Academic Freedom Petition, www.academicfreedompettion.com is a project of Discovery Institute’s Center for Science & Culture."

Quoting the Wikipedia article on Academic Freedom bills, "Based largely upon language drafted by the Discovery Institute, from language originally drafted for the Santorum Amendment, the common goal of these bills is to expose more students to articles and videos that criticize evolution, most of which are produced by advocates of intelligent design or Biblical creationism"

Quoting Freshwater's preposition #1, "The termination of a public school teacher’s employment contract based on the teacher’s use of academic freedom where the school board has not provided any clear indication as the kinds of materials or teaching methods which are unacceptable cannot be legally justified . . ."

Sure, maybe Freshwater's rolling totally solo on this, but given that his preposition is very clearly based on a Discovery Institute campaign, and given the DI's history of providing financial/legal/theoretical/"evidential" support (often not in an entirely obvious way) to teachers & school boards pushing an Intelligent Design agenda, it's not utterly paranoid to suspect that he's getting help.
posted by soundguy99 at 10:46 AM on July 6, 2012 [1 favorite]


@youandiandaflame: I've seen some blog posts & comments (sorry, any possibility of linkage has long since disappeared down the internet rabbit hole) that suggest that between the accusations of burning the students and the amount of money, time & effort this has cost the local & state government & school boards, Freshwater's local support is pretty low.
posted by soundguy99 at 10:55 AM on July 6, 2012


I think his termination was completely justified for the assault of a student and for the refusal to comply with the curriculum, but I still defend anyone's right to quietly and passively display a personally significant religious item on their work area. I'm an atheist but would defend a bible on a desk just as I would a Koran, the wearing of a Kirpan, or displaying a pagan talisman.
posted by rocket88 at 11:13 AM on July 6, 2012 [3 favorites]


I can't believe that anyone who was a student in the U.S. public school system doesn't know this.

Why would anyone who's been in school know this any more than someone who's been to an attorney know what the bar exam entails?
posted by adamdschneider at 11:14 AM on July 6, 2012 [8 favorites]


zamboni: There's a lot more about the case in the John Freshwater wikipedia article.
Wow. Everyone who hasn't should take one minute to read the asshattery this religious fuckwad and his lawyer have done, so far. Withholding evidence, self-contradicting testimony, publicly reading court materials marked "Confidential"... Fail is thick on this one.
posted by IAmBroom at 11:14 AM on July 6, 2012


Aside from Freshwater's claim of First Amendment expression, I think at least one of the kids who got branded has sought legal representation. Wouldn't this put the public school on the hook for damages, because the school is supposed to be acting in loco parentis? Even if you grant Freshwater has a case on religious freedom grounds (and that's a mighty stretch at best), I would think the school could be out a lot of money if they get sued by some of the parents of the kids in Freshwater's class.
posted by jonp72 at 11:18 AM on July 6, 2012


"Asked why he had them there, Freshwater responded that since he’d been instructed to keep his own Bible out of sight during class time and had not done so, he was afraid he’d come into his classroom some morning and find his own Bible gone and wanted the other available since the Bible is his inspiration. ... He recalled the middle school principal telling him that it would be insubordination to fail to comply with the instruction to keep his Bible out of sight during class hours, but then said he didn’t think it was insubordination."

this level of before-hand rules-lawyering [suggests involvement of or aligning his strategy with various conservative religious organizations]


To me, that level of before-hand rules-lawyering suggests he's "big in the union" (i.e., fairly involved) and has been involved in (as a union advocate or officer, perhaps) or observed some personnel gamesmanship between the union and the administration before. I actually sort-of wanted to laugh when I read it because it's so absurd and juvenile but ... I've seen similar play out more than once. There are super-crazy people who learn how to exploit the union's protections and then the union feels obligated to at least pro-forma complain on their behalf so that they don't set a precedent of forgoing that protection ... Goad the principal into giving you a directive ("put the book in the drawer"), find a way around the directive that you can at least plausibly claim is related to academics ("it was in the school library!"), claim you had real fear you were going to be retaliated against for simply exercising your rights ("I was afraid my copy would be gone!"), and the dare the district to discipline you for insubordination. Either you get the district to back down (which plenty do -- is it worth $60,000 to discipline the guy? $600,000? $6 million?) or you have set up your union grievance and subsequent lawsuit.

A savvy principal recognizes the maneuvering right at the start and documents the crap out of the situation, because this is the sort of teacher who eventually generates disciplinary action or absurd levels of student complaints, and they often manage to keep their problem behavior juuuuuuuust under the radar, right up until the start burning students with a Tesla coil or whatever the hell he did, and then there's no paper trail showing it's a pattern of behavior.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 11:26 AM on July 6, 2012 [5 favorites]


@jonp72: already happened, to the tune of $450,000.

link

@ Eyebrows McGee: you got a point, there.
posted by soundguy99 at 11:32 AM on July 6, 2012 [1 favorite]


And I bet that's not even his real name. That's his Christian porno name (take an author of the Bible's first name and then a miracle as a last name. BAM! Christian porno name)

You're right on this. Back in the day, when I was working under the name Moses Wine de Water, we did a really neat trick.

If you haven't, please take a look at the link shakespeherian provided earlier because it contains maybe the most telling sentence of 2012. In the story, in which Rep. Valarie Hodges, a Republican state rep from Louisiana, comes out against her earlier vote for Bobby Jindal’s overhaul of the state’s educational system, which provides vouchers for religious schools -- which might mean taxpayer support of Muslim schools:

Hodges mistakenly assumed that “religious” meant “Christian.”

It's the funniest not-actually-funny thing of the week
posted by MCMikeNamara at 11:33 AM on July 6, 2012 [3 favorites]


WHAT THERE ARE OTHER RELIGIONS?
posted by shakespeherian at 11:36 AM on July 6, 2012 [2 favorites]


Having been in schools like this, I don't have much sympathy for teachers who want to display religious books in their classrooms. Even if the book is just there because the teacher wants to read it, the obvious double-standards which exist around the issue (see above) make this the kind of thing government employees in positions of power should avoid while at work. Personal icons are one thing, because they're clearly personal in ways The Teacher's Desk is not, but religious displays in the classroom are both unprofessional and unfair to the kids.
posted by vorfeed at 11:39 AM on July 6, 2012 [2 favorites]


I'm not sure really how the phrase "innocently-intended" works here--I think we can all agree that in the "Bible on the desk" hypothetical, the Bible is there because the teacher is a True Believer Who Wants Everyone To Know. Very similar to wearing a necklace or lapel pin with a cross on it. It's an outward expression of that person's religious beliefs.

My point is that yes, we all can come to the same OPINION that the Bible is there because the teacher Wants Everyone To Know -- but in a court of law, we actually can't "all agree" that that's why the Bible is there. I mean, any defense attorney worth his salt could ask "how do you know it wasn't there because some student had turned it in as a lost-and-found kind of thing? Or it was something the teacher was going to show off the binding on it?

Mind you, I'm referring strictly to Talez' claim above that simply keeping a Bible on a desk means they are promoting religion. It is the teacher's other behavior alongside the simple Bible-on-the-desk that makes us all "agree" there's an ulterior motive. But independent of that other behavior, the simple keeping of a Bible on a desk does not, in and of itself, hold up in a court of law as being indicative of "Teacher Is Proseletyzing In Class."

That's what I meant by "innocently-intended" - that it's possible to argue that there are other reasons to have a Bible on a desk, and before going to court with that we'd better find other evidence. Fortunately, in Freshwater's case, such evidence is legion, so we're good.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 11:39 AM on July 6, 2012 [1 favorite]


Hodges mistakenly assumed that “religious” meant “Christian.”

She also seems to assume that "teaching the fundamentals of America’s Founding Fathers’ religion" is something she would like, because obviously Jefferson et al. believed the same kind of Christianity that today's modern right-wing-ish Christians do. And boy oh boy they did not.
posted by rtha at 11:43 AM on July 6, 2012 [10 favorites]


I don't buy the free expression argument myself. First, it looks like he wasn't fired "merely" for displaying religious literature and posters. Even though having a book on your desk is, in the general case, an acceptable accommodation, Freshwater is a terrible test case for this.

Second, first-amendment protections in the workplace are limited to things that are reasonably compatible with doing your job. There are certainly some grey areas there, but turning the classroom into your personal youth ministry probably isn't one.

It should be noted that a critical part of the Dover case wasn't just that ID (in the form of planted books and a canned speech) violated the Lemon test, it did so in a way that violated the rights of religious parents who were uncomfortable with the school system endorsing sectarian evangelical views.
posted by CBrachyrhynchos at 11:47 AM on July 6, 2012


take an author of the Bible's first name and then a miracle as a last name. BAM! Christian porno name

The important question here is who gets the Christian porno surname Burningbush.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 11:58 AM on July 6, 2012 [1 favorite]


@Eyebrows McGee - sounds like you're speaking from experience there
posted by kgasmart at 12:02 PM on July 6, 2012


because obviously Jefferson et al. believed the same kind of Christianity that today's modern right-wing-ish Christians do. And boy oh boy they did not.

Though revisionist historian David Barton is doing his darndest to suggest otherwise, and he finds political allies eager to help.
posted by audi alteram partem at 12:02 PM on July 6, 2012


Hodges mistakenly assumed that “religious” meant “Christian.”

Ironically, it used to. In the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, people talked about "the Catholic religion" and "the Protestant religion" and "the Reformed religion," etc. Example. The terms "Christian" and "religious" were synonymous, and what we would today describe as "traditions" or "denominations" of Christianity were habitually referred to as "religions."

It's this bit of historical trivia that gives rise to the argument that "freedom of religion" in the First Amendment might have been intended to read something like "freedom to choose one's Christian tradition." Even if that were true, it's still not a winning argument. But it's not a stupid one either.

Regardless, one would need to be smarter than Hodges apparently is to even be aware of that now-archaic definition, so it's kind of a double fail.
posted by valkyryn at 12:07 PM on July 6, 2012


Letter to the Hebrew Congregation at Newport, George Washington, August 1790

Seems like there was at least some acknowledgement of faiths outside of Christianity.
posted by rosswald at 12:18 PM on July 6, 2012


From Wikipedia: "Moreover, the only written instructions possessed by the schools had no such caution. Principal William White testified, "No, it does not [say anything about not touching people with the Tesla coil.]""

Ah well, apparently he'll prove Darwin right one of these days.
posted by jaduncan at 12:18 PM on July 6, 2012


Exclusionism empowers Christianity in all its forms. Not so much so in, say Buddhism, but other major religions rely on the notion of a blessed people for their major attraction. This means that outsiders are not blessed, they are damned. Conversely, many scientists claim to be deeply religious. Why not? There's no conflict between science and the idea of a Creator that looks down upon, and cares about us. Science is constrained by the fact that not being able to prove that God exists does not equate to being able to prove that God doesn't exist. As far as science is concerned, God could be a Cosmic Muffin.

The law has to respect the rights of all people, equally. This gives batshit wingnuts a legitimate forum on the grounds of freedom of speech. The law doesn't require anybody to take batshit wingnuts seriously.

The problem is that people seem to be reluctant to call batshit wingnuts by the proper terminology. You cannot deal with Creationists by arguing on their own terms, because their terms cannot be challenged by argument. At some point, they should be told to just shut the fuck up about their batshit theories.

Let's hope and pray that our courts have the sense that God gave a goose when it comes time to think about this stuff.
posted by mule98J at 12:20 PM on July 6, 2012 [1 favorite]


> Though revisionist historian David Barton is doing his darndest to suggest otherwise, and he finds political allies eager to help.

God help us. I'm only kind of joking.

Barton is such an asshole.
posted by rtha at 12:22 PM on July 6, 2012


It's this bit of historical trivia that gives rise to the argument that "freedom of religion" in the First Amendment might have been intended to read something like "freedom to choose one's Christian tradition." Even if that were true, it's still not a winning argument. But it's not a stupid one either.

This is belied by statements made by the former President of the Constitutional Convention, "For happily the Government of the United States, which gives to bigotry no sanction, to persecution no assistance, requires only that they who live under its protection, should demean themselves as good citizens."

I suspect that the Founding Fathers knew full well that attempting to put doctrinal boundaries on religious liberties inevitably resulted in civil strife and bloodshed. In order to limit religious liberty to Christianity, the federal government would have needed to define Christianity first, and it could not do so without pissing off at least one major denomination that likely held a regional majority.
posted by CBrachyrhynchos at 12:31 PM on July 6, 2012 [1 favorite]


But it's not a stupid one either.

Sure it is.
posted by shakespeherian at 12:32 PM on July 6, 2012 [1 favorite]


"Warning: Do not bite tire while wheel is turning"
"WTF? Do we really have to make a warning label for that?!"
"Legal says we have to, to cover our ass."
"Who the hell needs warnings like these for their own safety?!"

...


"Moreover, the only written instructions possessed by the schools had no such caution. Principal William White testified, "No, it does not [say anything about not touching people with the Tesla coil.]""

Oh.

That said, my personal hope is that the coil didn't burn, it just left reddening like flicking a finger against your arm, and that this was a legitimate way to offer a more of a hands-on classroom demonstration, much like the traditional ways of involving kids in classroom Van de Graf generator demonstrations.
posted by -harlequin- at 12:37 PM on July 6, 2012


Sure, maybe Freshwater's rolling totally solo on this, but given that his preposition is very clearly based on a Discovery Institute campaign, and given the DI's history of providing financial/legal/theoretical/"evidential" support (often not in an entirely obvious way) to teachers & school boards pushing an Intelligent Design agenda, it's not utterly paranoid to suspect that he's getting help.

According to the docket items, Freshwater is being represented by an affiliate attorney with the Rutherford Institute.
posted by zamboni at 1:05 PM on July 6, 2012 [1 favorite]


My high school chemistry and physics teachers always did demos on themselves, first, and never made any student do them if they were uncomfortable or nervous or just didn't want to. They always made it look like fun, though, and it was rare that anyone opted out.
posted by rtha at 1:10 PM on July 6, 2012


"[Freshwater has ...] an Associate's degree in Recreation and Wildlife from Hocking College."

It all makes sense now. Dude thought he was tagging the kids for tracking.


Maybe it's to help identify them in case any are attacked by dinosaurs.
posted by homunculus at 1:34 PM on July 6, 2012 [1 favorite]


Thanks, zamboni.

For those having a little trouble locating this info, you wanna open up the "Notice of Appeal" pdf at the bottom of zamboni's docket items link.

Also, if anyone's interested, the "Memorandum in Support of Jurisdiction" is what actually lays out Freshwater's points of appeal and supporting cases. Direct PDF link: here.
posted by soundguy99 at 2:17 PM on July 6, 2012 [1 favorite]


All public school teachers in the U.S., at all levels, can and do receive tenure. I can't believe that anyone who was a student in the U.S. public school system doesn't know this.

No, that is not true. Here in Texas, "continuing contracts" (the equivalent of tenure) are offered by only a small number of districts, although they were once widespread. Houston Independent School District, for example, hasn't offered continuing contracts for more than a decade.

Since you managed to say something that is not true, the falsity of which is easily checked, and then imply that everyone who disagrees hasn't been paying attention, I assume it's safe to say that you are a product of the US public school system as well.
posted by Alexander Hatchell at 3:53 PM on July 6, 2012 [2 favorites]


In order to limit religious liberty to Christianity, the federal government would have needed to define Christianity first, and it could not do so without pissing off at least one major denomination that likely held a regional majority.

Again, I'm not saying it's a good argument, just that it isn't implausible on its face. Eighteenth-century people really did use the word "religion" in a different way than we do now. Heck, the whole concept of "religion" as "distinct faith traditions" rather than "species of Christian belief" is a relatively new concept. There's a decent discussion of the operative ideas in this thread.

I mean, heck, Christians in the Roman world were sometimes called "atheists" because they refused to believe that Caesar was divine. Now, the term means "one who does not believe in any god or gods," but it has previously been used to mean "one who does not believe in the right god or gods." So there is a pretty wide range of historical meanings for many terms we now consider to be settled.

Furthermore, defining "Christianity" as "traditions which adhere to the first seven councils would have been entirely uncontroversial for most of American history, and not seriously controversial outside purely academic circles even today. Catholics may not like Protestants all that much, but they, in general, recognize a certain kinship there that's absent from, say, Mormonism or Unitarianism.

So for most of the nineteenth century, the courts do seem to have operated from a basically Christian framework, and Mormons didn't have a whole lot of success challenging their various persecutions. They eventually had to give up polygamy as a condition of being admitted to the Union, because it was politically unpopular and the courts weren't willing to enforce their religious rights there. But come the twentieth century, the courts pretty quickly realized that they had absolutely no interest in making those kind of distinctions, so they pretty much got out of the business of deciding what constituted "Christianity" and what didn't. It was a very small step from there to recognizing that "religion" wasn't actually limited to "Christianity," however defined. This was also about the time that the word "religion" came to be used the way we use it now.
posted by valkyryn at 9:02 PM on July 6, 2012


Again, I'm not saying it's a good argument, just that it isn't implausible on its face.

I think the issue more is that to form such an argument one would require a very specific set of somewhat esoteric historical context (w/r/t previous understanding(s) of the term 'religion') while remaining ignorant of much better-known historical context such as that the founding fathers were aware of Judaism.
posted by shakespeherian at 9:13 PM on July 6, 2012 [1 favorite]


Mind you, I'm referring strictly to Talez' claim above that simply keeping a Bible on a desk means they are promoting religion.

Put a Quran innocently on a desk in a public school and watch how far your counter viewpoint will go.

That's what I meant by "innocently-intended" - that it's possible to argue that there are other reasons to have a Bible on a desk, and before going to court with that we'd better find other evidence.

If there is a secular purpose there is a secular purpose and one would hope that the school administration would take that under advisement instead of jumping to a different set of conclusions. For instance a social studies class or history class might be doing religions of the world in a secular context and this would probably involve the scripture from several different religions.

In this case there's clearly no secular purpose. He was doing it as a middle finger to the establishment clause and any like him need to be removed as a state actor.
posted by Talez at 10:41 AM on July 7, 2012


I think the issue more is that to form such an argument one would require a very specific set of somewhat esoteric historical context (w/r/t previous understanding(s) of the term 'religion') while remaining ignorant of much better-known historical context such as that the founding fathers were aware of Judaism.

Not to mention "...the Gentile, the Christian and the Mohametan, the Hindoo and the infidel of every denomination," as Thomas Jefferson put it.
posted by infinitywaltz at 10:53 PM on July 7, 2012 [1 favorite]


Put a Quran innocently on a desk in a public school and watch how far your counter viewpoint will go.

Other people's lack of perception about the law does not define the law. Someone freaking out about "omigod there's a Qu'ran on her desk" in the absence of any further promotion of Islam would be just as wrong as someone freaking out about "omigod there's a Bible on her desk" in the absence of any further promotion of Christianity.

If there is a secular purpose there is a secular purpose and one would hope that the school administration would take that under advisement instead of jumping to a different set of conclusions. For instance a social studies class or history class might be doing religions of the world in a secular context and this would probably involve the scripture from several different religions. In this case there's clearly no secular purpose. He was doing it as a middle finger to the establishment clause and any like him need to be removed as a state actor.

If you agree that the school would need to "take it under advisement" what a teacher's intent would be for having a Bible on the desk before dismissing them, then why did you say that simply keeping a Bible on his desk would be "grounds for dismissal"?
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 5:37 AM on July 9, 2012


Freshwater in his own words (November 2011) during an interview with David Barton's Wallbuilders organization (via Panda's Thumb, Ed Brayton, and Right Wing Watch).
There is a lot of fear in public school teachers, especially Christian public school teachers. They put fear into them and they keep them ignorant; they don't teach them, they don't train them on it, so what a teacher does is they take off their religious beliefs, they take their hat off before they walk into a public school building because they don't want to lose their job. They really don't have a good understanding of this whole thing called religious belief and separation of church and state, it has been convoluted, it has been putting fear in the people and it is sad, it's very sad for a public school teacher in a public school in America today.
For Freshwater, being asked not to promote his religious beliefs to students using the imprimatur of the state is equivalent to "tak[ing] off his religious beliefs."
posted by audi alteram partem at 4:39 AM on July 11, 2012


He should have followed his calling: work (serve) as a minister or pastor.
posted by five fresh fish at 6:54 PM on July 11, 2012


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