Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Creationist Teacher Sues for Job

Former science teacher John Freshwater sued the Mt. Vernon, Ohio School District to get his old job back.

In August, Freshwater told the Ohio Supreme Court that,

1. He had a U.S. constitutional right to teach whatever he chose in his eighth grade public-school science classroom; and

2. The Mt. Vernon school district showed unconstitutional hostility to religion when it ordered him to dispose of the religious display in his classroom.

In 2011, R. Lee Shepard of the Ohio Education Department had advised the Mt. Vernon School District to fire Freshwater, and it took his advice. Shepard wrote, “John Freshwater was determined to inject his personal religious beliefs into his plan and pattern of instruction of his students.…Freshwater’s instruction included ‘evidence against evolution’…based, in large part, upon the Christian religious principles of Creationism and Intelligent Design.” Shepard’s report followed hearings that took place, on and off, for two years and involved more than 80 witnesses.

After Mt. Vernon fired Freshwater, he sued the district in state court. He lost in the trial and appeals courts. In 2012, he appealed to the Ohio Supreme Court, which took the case.

The Rutherford Institute, a Religious Right legal group, backs Freshwater.

Mt. Vernon replied, “Freshwater is not a private citizen when teaching in a classroom.…His teaching becomes ‘government speech.’ That speech may violate the Establishment Clause; when it does, and Freshwater refuses to stop the violation himself, the Board has every right to remove him from the classroom and cure the violation.”

The National Center for Science Education (NCSE) submitted a brief in support of Mt. Vernon. It offered an exhaustive history of creationism, explaining its religious and anti-scientific character. NCSE appended a whole book on the subject by the National Academy of Sciences.

In its brief for Mt. Vernon, Americans United for Separation of Church and State (AU) stressed the wider goals of Freshwater’s backer. The brief says, “Freshwater seeks nothing less than to have this Court bless the teaching of religious beliefs in Ohio’s public schools.”

AU emphasized that Mt. Vernon had a U.S. constitutional duty as well as a right to halt Freshwater’s advancement of religion.

The case is Freshwater v. Mt. Vernon.

School Can Require Empathy Lesson

Jennifer Keeton wants to be a school counselor. She enrolled in a counseling program at Augusta State University in Georgia.

In June, U.S. District Judge J. Randall Hall wrote that Keeton “ascribes absolute truth to the proposition that homosexuality is an immoral lifestyle choice rather than an immutable state of being, and she endorses a universal moral prescription against homosexual conduct.…

“According to Keeton, her opinions regarding homosexuality derive from her Christian faith.”

Keeton planned to impose these views on her clients. Keeton’s teachers assigned her a remedial project to increase her “multicultural competence” and “understanding and empathy” toward homosexuals.

Keeton viewed the assignment as a punishment for her religious beliefs. She felt that “The entire process sought to change her beliefs—not just regarding homosexuality but also the transcendence of her biblical convictions—and to force her to affirm viewpoints Defendants prefer.”

One of her teachers explained, “The alteration of beliefs that [faculty] were looking for is that Miss Keeton would no longer believe that her views should be shared by other people.”

Keeton refused the assignment, and she was dropped from the program.

She sued in U.S. District Court, seeking a return to the program without doing the remedial assignment. She claimed that the assignment violated a variety of rights under the U.S. Constitution’s Free Speech and Equal Protection Clauses.

The American Counseling Association (ACA) accredits counselors for public schools. It accredits only those who adhere to its code of ethics.

The code requires counselors to serve their clients without imposing their personal values. Therefore, public university counseling programs teach students to abide by the code. If aspiring counselors feel they can’t set aside their personal beliefs on the job, their teachers provide remedial programs for them.

The Judge Hall rejected Keeton’s claims one by one. He said the faculty had a right to dismiss her. He ended, “When affairs of the conscience ripen into action…government is granted leave to regulate on behalf of certain public interests, including education and professional fitness.”

The case is Keeton v. Augusta.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Monroe County NY: Candidates, School Vouchers

MCPEARL (Monroe Citizens for Public Education and Religious Liberty), a Monroe County, N.Y. coalition, strives to keep public funds for public schools only.
In election years, MCPEARL seeks the views of major-party candidates running in Monroe County about public funds for nonpublic schools. This year, we asked state legislative candidates, “Should N.Y. State provide state income tax credits and/or tuition vouchers for children who attend nonpublic elementary and secondary schools, including religious schools?”
“If you would rather consider a particular bill than answer the general question, please tell us, do you favor N.Y. Senate Bill 01436, which would give a state income tax cut of up to $500 per child, per year to low-income families who pay tuition at elementary or secondary schools?”

N.Y. State Assembly Candidates

District 133: Nojay, Weaver
One letter, two emails, and thirteen telephone calls drew no answer from Bill Nojay, Republican.
Randolph Weaver wrote, “No.”


District 134: Reilich
In 2010, the spokesperson for William Reilich, Republican, said his voting record showed that he was for vouchers. In 2012, Reilich has no Democratic opponent.


District 135: Johns, Koon
Mark Johns, Republican, wrote, “If the Assembly presents a companion piece of legislation to Senate Bill S1436 I will support it because I feel that an income tax credit of $500 per child would greatly benefit low-income families.
David Koon, Democrat, wrote, “I have always been against state taxpayer dollars going to non-state schools. The answer is NO!!!!”


District 136: Morelle
Joseph Morelle, Democrat, wrote, “I do not support state income tax credits or tuition vouchers for children who attend nonpublic elementary or secondary schools.” No Republican opposes Morelle.
District 137: Gantt
One letter, two emails, and four telephone calls elicited no answer from David Gantt, Democrat. No Republican opposes Gantt.


District 138: Bronson, Vazquez
Harry Bronson, Democrat, wrote, “I believe that this legislation would undermine a fundamental tenet of our public policy, that we provide a sound public education to our children.”
One letter, one email, and seven telephone calls extracted no answer from Peterson Vazquez, Republican.


District 139: Hawley
Stephen Hawley, Republican, wrote, “With deficits every year the idea of new tax credits would be difficult to implement from a fiscal point of view, with that said I am not in favor of supporting this legislation.” No Democrat opposes Hawley.


N.Y. State Senate Candidates

District 54: Nozzolio
In 2004, Michael Nozzolio, Republican, said, “In the past I have supported proposals to implement education vouchers in New York State.” No Democrat opposes Nozzolio.


District 55: Hanna, O’Brien
One letter, one email, and six telephone calls evoked no answer from Sean Hanna, Republican.
The campaign manager of Ted O’Brien, Democrat, wrote, “Ted does not support providing state income tax credits and/or tuition vouchers for children who attend nonpublic elementary and secondary schools, including religious schools.”


District 56: Robach
In 2008, Joseph Robach, Republican, co-sponsored a similar tax-credit bill. In 2012, he said his position had not changed. No Democrat opposes Robach.


District 59: Gallivan
The spokeswoman for Patrick Gallivan, Republican, wrote, “Senator Gallivan, in the past, has supported funding for non-public schools and is not opposed to supporting educational choices for students.” No Democrat opposes Gallivan.


District 61: Ranzenhofer, Rooney
Michael Ranzenhofer, Republican, said, “There should be some sort of voucher assistance for nonpublic education.”
Justin Rooney said that tax credits were appropriate, but he would not be for tuition vouchers.


District 62: Maziarz, Witryol
George Maziarz, Republican, co-sponsored the tax-credit bill, S01436.
Amy Hope Witryol, Democrat, wrote, “I’m not in favor of new tax credits for private schools.”


Monroe County Candidates for U.S. Congress

This year, MCPEARL asked candidates for U.S. Congress, “Should the federal government provide income tax credits and/or tuition vouchers for children who attend nonpublic elementary and secondary schools, including religious schools?”
“Alternatively, if you would rather consider particular program than answer the general question, please tell us, should Congress re-enact the federal Opportunity Scholarship Program (OSP), a tuition voucher initiative in the District of Columbia?”
Below are the sorry results of our inquiry.

District 25: Brooks, Slaughter
One letter, one email, and six telephone calls drew no answer from Maggie Brooks, Republican.
Louise Slaughter, Democrat, voted to end the District of Columbia voucher program.


District 27: Collins, Hochul
One letter, two emails, and nine telephone calls elicited no reply from Chris Collins, Republican.
A spokesman for Kathy Hochul, Democrat, said, “We didn’t want to dive into that issue at this time.”

Candidates: School Vouchers, N.Y. & U.S.

MCPEARL (Monroe Citizens for Public Education and Religious Liberty), a Monroe County, N.Y. coalition, strives to keep public funds for public schools only. In election years, MCPEARL seeks the views of major-party candidates running in Monroe County about public funds for nonpublic schools.

Candidates for U.S. Senate from N.Y. State

Gillibrand, Long
Kirsten Gillibrand, Democrat, voted against a bill to revive a federal tuition voucher program—the Opportunity Scholarship Program (OSP)—in the District of Columbia.
In June, the Adirondack Daily Enterprise reported that Wendy Long, Republican, “said she supports vouchers to let parents decide where to send their children to school.”


Candidates for U.S. President

Obama, Romney
Barack Obama, Democrat, opposed the reauthorization of the District of Columbia tuition voucher program.
In June, the New York Times reported that Mitt Romney, Republican, “as president, would seek to overhaul the federal government’s largest programs for kindergarten through 12th grade into a voucherlike system. Students would be free to use the $25 billion in federal money to attend any school they choose—public, charter, onine or private.”