NewsTue Jun 24, 2008 - 12:15 pm EST
Teacher Fired for Refusing to Remove Bible from Desk, Allegedly Teaching Religion in Class
By Tim Waggoner
MOUNT VERNON, OH, June 24, 2008 (LifeSiteNews.com) - Yesterday, the Mount Vernon Board of Education voted unanimously to terminate the contract of a Mount Vernon Middle School science teacher. John Freshwater has been a teacher at the school for 21 years. Among several questionable allegations, including that of "burning" a cross on a student’s arm, the only significant allegation Freshwater admits to, is failing to remove his personal Bible from his classroom desk.
According to Mount Vernon News, the Mount Vernon School Board relied on the report of an independent investigator, H.R. On Call Inc., to pass their resolution to consider the termination of Freshwater’s contract. The investigator reported that Freshwater "burnt" what they determined to be a cross, and not an "x" as Freshwater claimed, on a student’s arm during a routine science experiment, taught religion in the classroom, refused to remove religious articles from the classroom, and prayed at a Federation of Christian Athlete’s (FCA) meeting, which is a Christian student-led group Freshwater advises.
In an exclusive LifeSiteNews interview, Freshwater’s Pastor Don Matolyak of the Trinity Assembly of God parish, who has been closely monitoring the case, said the only accusation against Freshwater with any truth to it is his refusal to remove his Bible from his desk. Matolyak spoke adamantly on the partiality of the investigator’s report.
"The investigation is so biased. It should be known that there were people who should have been interviewed, positives for John, that were never interviewed. Who paid for this investigative group? The school board."
"The main issue behind these complaints is John’s refusal to remove his personal Bible from his desk," he explained.
Pastor Matolyak said the entire ordeal started five years ago when Freshwater raised a question to his students about intelligent design. Freshwater was covering the theory in his classroom, just as he was covering the theory of evolution, when he received complaints about the inclusion of intelligent design in his curriculum. Meetings ensued with the principal, superintendent, and eventually the school board, which shot down his argument that intelligent design, like the theory of evolution, should be taught as a creation theory. Freshwater then agreed to stop teaching the theory and has not done so since.
"Since then, there have been people who have had it out for John," claims the pastor, who believes this first incident acted as the catalyst for the recent events.
Several years after the intelligent design debate, in December of 2007, Freshwater was called into the principal’s office and shown a photo of what looked like a person’s arm after being marked by a tesla coil, a electricity harnessing device used in classroom science experiments. Freshwater said he did not know if this was one of his students because he could not see the student’s face. Like many science teachers, Freshwater has been for years demonstrating the capabilities of the tesla coil by marking students’ arms with it, Pastor Matolyak attested.
"John has used it for 21 years; others teachers in the school use it. He moves it over your arm and it leaves a line." Pastor Matolyak continued, saying, "The student gave Freshwater permission to do so. Truthfully they line up to have it done. He is showing what electricity can do. The students volunteer to have it done. It is not something that is coerced; the students have fun doing this."
Freshwater was never approached by the parents of the child, who supposedly complained about the experiment, and he does not even know who the student is. Furthermore, after 21 years of similar experiments, he locked up the tesla coil, as requested by the principal. However, he now stands accused of burning a cross on a student’s arm.
"Someone says it’s a cross, someone says it’s an ‘x’; it’s a matter of interpretation," said Matolyak.
This April, Freshwater was informed that there had been another complaint about him regarding religious articles in his classroom. He was given a written directive to remove from his classroom a collage of the 10 Commandments, several Bibles in the back of the room used by the FCA, and the personal Bible that has been on his desk for 21 years.
After consulting with Pastor Matolyak and receiving legal council, Freshwater decided to comply with every part of the directive aside from the request to remove his personal Bible, which Pastor Matolyak described as his "constitutional right".
The report also alleges the teacher did not remove a religious poster from the wall of his classroom. Pastor Don said he could not imagine what that might be referring to, although he said it may have been a poster of President Bush praying alongside Colin Powell during a meeting.
Freshwater has also been accused of teaching religious beliefs in the classroom, to which Pastor Matolyak responded, "One of the allegations against John is that he is teaching religion in the classroom, and John will flatly deny that. I know plenty of students in the classroom that will say he does not do that. Past and current students who will say, ‘Mr. Freshwater has never taught religion.’"
The last allegation suggests Freshwater prayed during an FCA meeting. To that Pastor Don said, "He supposedly led a healing session and an exorcism during an FCA meeting. The meeting was running late so, the only thing John did was wrap it up by saying a small prayer to end things. Not wanting to be rude, he said a quick dismissal prayer, ‘God go with us today in Jesus’ name.’ We are talking about a Christian organization and he was trying to get the kids to move on."
Not only has Freshwater been fired from his job, he is also facing a legal battle over the allegations. Mount Vernon News reports that a lawsuit was filed on behalf of a student at Mount Vernon Middle School.
Pastor Matolyak concluded the interview by commenting on a claim from the report that suggests Freshwater was not doing an adequate job teaching the students, and that they had to be re-taught at the high school.
"The funny thing is," he said, "the yearly tests indicate his students tested the best out of all the others in the middle school. His students passed with flying colors, but the school as a whole did not pass."