(Mount Vernon, Ohio) The Ohio Department of Education (ODE) has agreed to remove a “letter of admonishment” from the professional record of Christian teacher John Freshwater. In its letter, the ODE stated that it is investigating The Rutherford Institute’s charges that the admonishment against Freshwater was issued in defiance of Freshwater’s due process rights and in violation of the Department’s own rules. Institute attorneys insist that the ODE’s issuance of the admonishment violated Freshwater’s due process rights because the teacher was not given proper notice or an opportunity to defend himself against the charges. The Institute also argues that the ODE exceeded the scope of its authority by issuing the letter in violation of the prescribed statutory procedures. The Rutherford Institute came to Freshwater’s aid in the wake of a bitter and protracted legal dispute regarding Freshwater’s display of allegedly Christian posters in the classroom and his encouraging students to think critically about scientific “theories” such as evolution.
“I’m pleased that the Ohio Department of Education has decided to step back and review this situation,” stated John Whitehead, president of The Rutherford Institute. “The right to basic due process—especially the right to defend oneself against charges—is too important to be short-circuited by any government agency.”
John Freshwater was suspended by the Mount Vernon City School District Board of Education in 2008 and officially terminated in January 2011. The School Board’s resolution claims that Freshwater improperly injected religion into the classroom by giving students “reason to doubt the accuracy and or veracity of scientists, science textbooks and/or science in general.” The Board also claims that he failed to remove “all religious articles” from his classroom, including a Bible. Throughout his 21-year teaching career at Mount Vernon Middle School, John Freshwater never received a negative performance evaluation. In fact, showing their support for Freshwater, students even organized a rally in his honor. They also wore t-shirts with crosses painted on them to school and carried Bibles to class.
However, school officials were seemingly unswayed by the outpouring of support for Freshwater. The Ohio Department of Education issued its admonishment against Freshwater on March 22, 2011, based on charges that a student was injured after Freshwater, a 24-year veteran in the classroom, permitted students to touch a live Tesla coil. However, as Institute attorneys pointed out, the administrator who investigated the initial incident ultimately concluded that the allegations had been overblown and that there was “a plausible explanation for how and why the Tesla Coil had been used by John Freshwater.”
With the help of The Rutherford Institute, Freshwater is appealing his termination in state court, asserting that the school’s actions violated his rights under the First and Fourteenth Amendments to the United States Constitution and constituted religious discrimination under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.