Mount Vernon, Ohio public school officials told creationist science teacher John Freshwater to clear Christian displays out of his classroom. Freshwater cleared out some, but not all, of the displays, and he brought in a few new items.
The district fired him, and he sued to get his job back. In November, four judges of the Ohio Supreme Court ruled that the Mt. Vernon school district could rightfully fire Freshwater for insubordination.
The judges chose not to decide whether Mt. Vernon could fire Freshwater because he taught creationism to his science classes and ignored orders to stop.
Dissenters Argue Like Creationists
Three dissenting judges adopted the creationist rationale. For instance, they used the argument from inadequate evidence.
A massive collection of evidence from many scientific specialties supports evolution. However, some creationists say no evidence supports evolution, and others say the evidence is too skimpy. No amount of evidence would convince them.
All the judges who considered Freshwater’s case commented on the overwhelming volume of evidence, but the Ohio Supreme Court’s dissenting judges thought the evidence of Freshwater’s insubordination too slight to justify his dismissal.
The evidence showed that for years Freshwater had told his students that their science textbooks wrongly taught evolution. He distributed handouts from creationist organizations to them. He told them to reject scientific conclusions inconsistent with the Bible. He filled his classroom with Christian displays.
From time to time over the years, parents complained. School officials told Freshwater to quit, but he did not quit. He continued to promote creationism and his version of Christianity, and the district ignored him until the next complaint.
Finally, one family threatened to sue the district. In response, the district hired a private investigator to learn if Freshwater’s activities advanced religion. The investigator found the copious evidence that led successive judges to approve Freshwater’s dismissal.
Quote-Mining, Teach the Controversy
Creationists search the scientific archive for quotations out of context to use as evidence that some respected scientists deny evolution. When the scientists find out how their work has been misrepresented, they try to set the record straight; but most creationists continue to use the misleading quotations. The corrections never catch up with the falsehoods. Opponents of creationism call the practice quote-mining.
A Religious Right organization, the Rutherford Institute, represented Freshwater before the Ohio Supreme Court. The dissenting judges probably got their mined quotations from the Rutherford lawyer’s brief.
At some point in the original hearings, Freshwater said he wasn’t a creationist. The dissenting judges used that statement as evidence that he didn’t teach creationism. The record showed that Freshwater often contradicted himself and the other evidence.
When the U.S. Supreme Court struck down a state law requiring public schools to teach creationism in science classes, it added that schools could teach about scientific controversies. Creationists quote that passage to argue that schools can teach creationism, because evolution is controversial.
Friends of evolution reply that evolution is politically, but not scientifically, controversial. Therefore public schools cannot teach creationism in science classes. Numerous scientific societies have issued statements supporting evolution and denouncing creationism.
The dissenting judges concluded that Freshwater had a right to teach creationism, against the district’s orders, because evolution was controversial. As evidence, they quoted the U.S. Supreme Court passage and a remark by a Mt. Vernon teacher that evolution was controversial. The dissenting judges should have known better. Briefs submitted to the court by scientific organizations explained that no scientific controversy existed.
The case is Freshwater v. Mt. Vernon.