By Peter J. Smith

MOUNT VERNON, Ohio, June 12, 2009 ( – A 8th grade public school teacher who says he was fired for refusing to remove his personal Bible from his classroom desk is now taking the school district to federal court, suing them for defamation and breach of contract.

John Freshwater, a teacher with over 24 years of experience, filed a lawsuit Tuesday with the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Ohio against the Mount Vernon City School District Board of Education, and its officials for terminating his contract. He accuses the district of violating Ohio public policy, and perpetrating religious harassment, retaliation, conspiracy, and defamation against him.

Last June, the Mount Vernon School Board voted unanimously to fire Freshwater from his teaching position based on the report of an independent investigator, which found that Freshwater had “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.

However, the event that evidently precipitated the school board’s investigation against Freshwater was his refusal to remove his personal Bible from his classroom desk – the only significant allegation Freshwater has admitted to.

According to Freshwater’s pastor, Rev. Don Matolyak of the Trinity Assembly of God church, Freshwater’s conflict with the school began after he broached the topic of Intelligent Design in the classroom after teaching the theory of evolution.

“Since then, there have been people who have had it out for John,” Matolyak told in an interview earlier last year. While the Bible may have been the immediate catalyst to Freshwater’s firing, the investigative report done on Freshwater indicates that any expression of Freshwater’s religion in the public school, including bringing other points of view to facilitate discussion on his teaching of biological evolution, were the primary concern of school administrators.

The investigator’s “Freshwater report”revealed that Freshwater would encourage critical analysis and debate on Darwinian evolution, and hand out supplemental materials on Intelligent Design and evolution. Freshwater had also disputed a Time magazine article that claimed scientists had found a “gay gene” and instead emphasized to his students that homosexual behavior was a matter of personal choice and a sin in the Bible.

In responses to a ninth grade questionnaire given to incoming students, a number remarked that evolution was one of their favorite topics in science due to the even-handed approach taught by Freshwater in the 8th grade. One student wrote that evolution was the favorite subject that was covered “because we learned about it and how it can or can’t be true and got both sides of the story.” Another said “Evolution because we always had debates about it.”

However, because students entering the 9th grade were challenging the positions of the teachers on evolution, the teachers complained that they had to “re-teach” evolution to students as an incontrovertible fact. The report cited one teacher who complained that Freshwater was “mis-teaching science (i.e. that there's some sort of 'difference between facts and hypotheses')” so that she had to start every year “reteaching students how science ACTUALLY works.”

According to Christian Educators Association International (CEAI), public school staffers in Mount Vernon were ordered this school year by school administrators to “remove all religious materials and displays from their rooms.”

“I am pleased to see a public school teacher like John Freshwater willing to go outside his comfort zone and fight for the religious freedoms our forefathers guaranteed us through the U. S. Constitution,” said Finn Laursen about the case, CEAI’s Executive Director.

“It is imperative that all Christian educators, students, and parents be willing to step forward to insist on their rights, or those rights will slowly be forfeited.”

View the “Freshwater report” here.

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