In a case that's lasted five years, the Supreme Court of Ohio upheld the termination of John Freshwater, an eighth-grade science teacher who refused to remove religious content from his class. But the decision was reached for a different reason than you may think.
This story started in 2008, when a local family sued Freshwater and the district for engaging in inappropriate religious activity. After an investigation, the Mount Vernon City School board set the ball in motion to terminate his employment — a protracted process that required over two years and over 80 witnesses (some of whom said the teacher decorated his classroom with Bible verses — and even branded a Christian cross onto a student's arm with a high-voltage coil). He was finally fired in 2011. Soon after Freshwater mounted his appeal, a case that eventually made its way to the Ohio Supreme Court.
In its decision, the Court wrote (emphasis added):
After detailed review of the voluminous record in this case, we hold that the court of appeals did not err in affirming the termination. The trial court properly found that the record supports, by clear and convincing evidence, Freshwater's termination for insubordination in failing to comply with orders to remove religious materials from his classroom. Accordingly, based on our resolution of this threshold issue, we need not reach the constitutional issue of whether Freshwater impermissibly imposed his religious beliefs in his classroom. We affirm the judgment of the court of appeals because there was ample evidence of insubordination to justify the termination decision.
So in other words, Freshwater was fired NOT because he was teaching creationism in science class, but because he failed to comply with orders. The Court made great pains to make this point clear. In a section headed "Teaching of Creationism and Intelligent Design Alongside Evolution Generally Disfavored," the court commented:
We recognize that this case is driven by a far more powerful debate over the teaching of creationism and intelligent design alongside evolution...Here, we need not decide whether Freshwater acted with a permissible or impermissible intent because we hold that he was insubordinate, and his termination can be justified on that basis alone.
Consequently, the Court's decision cannot be used as a precedent to prevent creationism from being taught in other science classes. Which is disappointing. How amazing and brave would it have been to see the Court take the case to the next level and declare that religion-driven pseudoscience has no place inside the science classroom?
That said — and this is important — so long as a school board is pro-science and willing to uphold its mandate, the Ohio Supreme Court's decision could conceivably be used as justification to fire other creationist teachers. But as we know, not all jurisdictions feel the same way about this issue.