Freshwater Day 15: A Teacher Secretly Tapes Administrators

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After a last minute cancellation of the session scheduled for March 20, the hearing on John Freshwater’s termination as a middle school science teacher in the Mt. Vernon, Ohio, school district resumed today. For links to previous posts on the hearing click here.

Testimony today came from Jeff Maley, former Superintendent of the Mt. Vernon City Schools, and Lori Miller, currently a middle school math teacher and formerly a middle school science teacher. Both were called by R. Kelly Hamilton, Freshwater’s attorney, who is presenting Freshwater’s case to not be terminated. The Board’s case was presented in earlier sessions of the hearing.

Jeff Maley Direct Examination

Jeff Maley was in the Mt. Vernon School System for approximately 20 years as an administrator, including around 8 years as superintendent. His son, now 25, was in Freshwater’s 8th grade science class. Maley was a history teacher before moving into administration.

In direct examination Hamilton pressed on the scanty documentation of past problems with Freshwater’s behavior. Maley described the three incidents that he recalled where an issue with Freshwater’s teaching came to his attention. The first was in the early 2000s when a parent complained about the use of inappropriate ID/creationist materials in class. Maley said that was resolved with the then-Principal, Mr. Koons, speaking to Freshwater about it.

The second was in 2003 when Freshwater offered a “teach the controversy” approach for adoption in the science curriculum. Freshwater first made the proposal acting as a teacher to the Curriculum Council, a group of teachers and administrators charged with evaluating curriculum proposals. The Council rejected the proposal, and Freshwater then brought it to the Board of Education in his role as parent of children in the schools. After several months of meetings and comments from teachers, administrators, the public, and Maley, the Board rejected both Freshwater’s original proposal and a weaker proposal moved by one Board member. Maley said he considered that incident to have been resolved by the Board’s action.

The third was in 2006 and again concerned the use of inappropriate handouts. On this occasion Maley wrote a formal letter to Freshwater instructing him not to use unsourced material because being unsourced it could not be properly evaluated regarding whether it was appropriate for use. Maley’s letter also told Freshwater that the material he’d used had not passed scientific review and wasn’t scientifically accepted. This last was on advice from the chairman of the high school science department, Dick Cunningham, and Charles Adkins, another science teacher. Their memo to Maley reporting their evaluation mentioned both the lack of sourcing, the lack of scientific merit, and the fact that the material did not meet the content standards. Maley said he left the latter point out of his letter to Freshwater because the material couldn’t be sourced.

Referring to the lack of sourcing of the material, Maley said, “At the very best the source was left off; at the very worst the source was taken off.” He would not speculate on which he thought was the case.

I found this incident of interest because in making his 2003 proposal to the Board of Education Freshwater also used unsourced material, that time the infamous “Ten Questions to Ask Your Biology Teacher About Evolution.” The copies Freshwater handed out at the Board meeting also contained no source identification, though it exists on the Web in exactly the form Freshwater’s handout had but with a source plainly visible on the top of the Web page. It’s Jonathan Wells’ Icons of Evolution site. Recall that Wells’ book was in Freshwater’s room when it was inspected by the independent investigators in April, 2008. Using material whose source isn’t given or is concealed appears to be a pattern. Recall also that Freshwater couldn’t remember where or from whom he got the “Watchmaker” video that testimony showed he had shown in class.

Asked whether he had conversations with Board members about Freshwater, Maley replied that he had about the proposal Freshwater brought to the Board. Maley recommended against adoption – I was at that meeting and Maley made a strong public statement opposing adoption.

In response to Maley’s letter, Freshwater sent a reply to Maley. The reply included a lesson plan for the week of April 3-8, 2006, in which Freshwater identified the state standards and benchmarks the material supposedly addressed. I got a brief look at that lesson plan. The April 3 entry referred to “irreducible complexity” and “specified complexity,” both of which have meaning only in the context of intelligent design creationism. The Wednesday lesson plan entry, April 5, had reference to “peppered moths,” with no elaboration. That’s another creationist favorite, is featured in Wells’ book, and is #6 on the “Ten Questions” list.

Maley said he did not recall receiving that letter from Freshwater.

Asked again if his only problem was that the material couldn’t be sourced, Maley replied “That’s a huge problem.” Bits and pieces of the handout were found in allaboutgod.com, but Freshwater denied having been to that site. Maley said he did not speculate on whether that was true or not.

In response to several questions Maley testified that while teachers have considerable freedom in using supplemental materials, that freedom was not unlimited and materials had to support the relevant curriculum content standards. If teachers had questions about some materials they could ask their principal or the Curriculum Council.

In response to another question Maley testified that a science teacher should be aware whether students’ questions about evolution are genuine scientific issues.

Hamilton asked Maley if he had a report of a teacher burning a cross on a student’s arm, would he take the teacher out of the classroom. Maley replied he didn’t know, that it would depend on the results of an investigation of the incident.

Asked whether a teacher’s supervisor should be aware of things like using Tesla coils to shock students, Maley replied that the teacher is responsible for his acts in the classroom.

Maley was shown the pictures of Zachary Dennis’ arm with the red marks in the shape of a cross. In response to questions, Maley testified that if he were told by a parent that a teacher had made the marks with an electrostatic device he would be very concerned, would interview the parents, and would probably call Children’s Services, since it’s required of teachers and administrators (among others) by Ohio law in instances where child abuse is suspected. Maley testified that he leans more toward the liberal end when it comes to reporting such incidents, preferring to report when in doubt rather than not report.

Asked whether his concern would be exacerbated by knowing the teacher was Freshwater, Maley replied “No.” Asked if he would take pictures of the injury, he replied that he probably would have photos taken. Asked if he would investigate if he thought the pictures were not authentic, Maley replied that it would depend on the circumstances.

HAmilton asked if Maley had heard complaints about religion in Freshwater’s classroom. Maley said he had heard second hand reports and knew that former Principal Koons had spoken to Freshwater about it. Maley assumed it had been handled at the building level.

Maley testified that he knew Freshwater was “faithful,” saying Freshwater sometimes wore a religious ring, bowed his head before eating, and so on, all signs MAley took to indicate Freshwater’s religious faith. Asked if he had ever seen Freshwater “impose” his religion on others, Maley replied he had not seen that.

Hamilton asked if he had heard any complaints about religion in the school. Maley replied that at one time FCA members were putting crosses on their lockers to advertise their membership, and he instructed that they couldn’t do so. They could identify themselves as FCA members but couldn’t use religious symbols.

Shown the poster of George W. Bush, Colin Powell, and the rest of Bush’s cabinet in prayer with the Bible verse from James, Maley said it was not appropriate in a classroom. He also testified that having Bible verses posted was not appropriate because “It would be advocating religion.” Maley, a former history teacher, said, “If I put something up in my classroom it’s there to influence students.”

Maley testified that if he knew of a Bible on a teacher’s desk he would ask that it be removed. He said he would also ask that a Koran be removed from a Muslim teacher’s desk. Asked what he would do if a teacher told him the Bible was his inspiration, Maley replied “I’d tell him to put it in his briefcase and be inspired.”

Hamilton then returned to a theme he’s visited repeatedly, asking Maley if by looking at it on a desk, one could tell Freshwater’s Bible is a religious item. Maley said its title is “The Living Bible.” Hamilton wandered off into a thicket of semantics about the metaphoric use of “bible” – could it refer to a “golf bible” or a “mechanic’s bible.” Maley pointed out the differences in meaning in the usages.

Hamilton referred to the Board of Education’s policy on religion in the schools, and asked if having a Bible on a teacher’s desk is “a display of a religious character,” in the words of the policy. Maley replied that it is. Asked who is responsible for seeing to it that Bibles are removed from desks, Maley replied that it was the Principal’s responsibility to the extent of his knowledge of their presence.

Asked who is responsible for interpreting the Board’s policy on religious materials in schools, Maley replied “All of us.”

I found that last answer interesting because a substantial part of Freshwater’s defense is that no one ever told him his religious displays weren’t appropriate, For more on that, see Lori Miller’s testimony below. She had no idea that a teacher praying over students at school lunch or in the hall wasn’t appropriate behavior.

Hamilton asked if a student asked a question about Easter could a teacher answer. Maley replied that he could, but that the answer cannot advocate a particular religious view. He said a teacher’s answer should be limited and that students should be advised to go to their parents with religious questions.

Hamilton asked if a teacher should teach “both sides” of the evolution issue. Maley replied that “You have to stick with the science.” Asked if a teacher could talk about the other side if it isn’t science, Maley replied “Not for very long.”

Hamilton read Maley’s comments recorded in the independent investigator’s notes that Maley thought Freshwater could not teach evolution objectively because of his religious beliefs. Asked the basis for that view, Maley identified interactions with Freshwater during the time of his proposal to the Board of Education in 2003.

In response to a question, Maley testified that he would not be surprised to hear that Freshwater’s students did well on the Ohio Achievement Test (which they did) because Maley thinks Freshwater is probably very good at transmitting information to students. (I actually think this too – it’s just in the area of what creationists call “origins science” that Freshwater has a serious problem.)

Asked why he had entertained the thought of transferring Freshwater to a different class/subject matter, as reported in the investigator’s notes, Maley replied that he felt that Freshwater was too conflicted about teaching science, and in the wake of the rejection of the 2003 proposal to the board Maley was seeking a way to reduce that conflict for Freshwater. Dean Narcisco, reporter for the Columbus Dispatch, caught the whole quotation in his story today:

“I believe that John, Mr. Freshwater, has a strong difficulty resolving his philosophical difficulties with the scientific community,” Maley said. “I respect that struggle, by the way. He is very fervent about the issue of evolution being incorrect.”

With respect to the two “Distinguished Teacher Awards” Freshwater had received, Maley said he started the program in the early 1990s when he was interim superintendent for a while as a way to recognize significant accomplishments in all sorts of activities. He said that there were no criteria for making the award except being nominated, and that he didn’t know who the awardees would be until the banquet at which they were given.

Finally, asked about the old saying “If it wasn’t documented it didn’t happen” Maley said he disagreed, and that “events evolve.”

That was the end of direct and there was no cross examination.

Lori Miller Direct Examination

Lori Miller is a middle school science and math teacher – she used to teach science and now teaches 7th grade math. Her daughter had Freshwater in 8th grade science some unmentioned time ago. She is also (I think) a member of Freshwater’s Assemblies of God congregation.

First, the shocker of the day: Miller testified that after the Freshwater issue arose last year, she began surreptitiously taping meetings she had with administrators. (“Surreptitiously” here means the taping was done without the knowledge or permission of the other participants in meetings.) She said she did it in order to assure herself that she understood clearly what she was to do and understand. We didn’t learn about the taping until part way through her testimony, so there’s more on this below.

As noted, Miller is a co-religionist and strong supporter of Freshwater. She said she supports and encourages him. She testified that she hadn’t read all of the independent investigator’s report because it sickened and disgusted her. She said that she did all the things Freshwater was being disciplined for – she had a Bible and four devotional books (exhibited to the hearing) on her classroom desk, used a Tesla coil to shock students when she taught science, was an FCA faculty monitor, and had religious materials displayed in her classroom, but she wasn’t being disciplined. She named four teachers who have Bibles on their desks in addition to Freshwater. She said she thought Freshwater was being specifically targeted.

Displaying a picture of her desk, she showed that the Bible and devotional books were plainly visible, piled on a corner of the desk. She described religious materials displayed on one quadrant of her classroom bulletin board. They included a cross given to her by a student (roughly 8” high by 5” wide), a “Faith” card, and notes from her husband with Bible verses on them. She had removed those items on instructions from Bill White, middle school Principal, and Superintendent Short before the start of the 2008-2009 school year.

In her testimony she also said that another middle school teacher, Wes Elifritz, a health teacher, had more elaborate religious materials than hers displayed in his room and had not been requested to remove them. She repeated that several times.

Miller testified that after she spoke publicly at the August 4, 2004, Board of Education meeting, telling the Board that she had used the Tesla coil and had other similarities to Freshwater, she was called to a meeting with Superintendent Short, Bill White (middle school Principal), and Brad Ritchie (middle school assistant Principal). She was advised to bring a union representative with her, and there were in fact two reps from the union present. That meeting was on August 24.

Miller taped that meeting, using a small recorder in her open purse. Kelly Hamilton, Freshwater’s attorney, attempted to play the core portion of the tape for the hearing, but his speakers were so bad that the audio was incomprehensible. So playing the tape was called off (rats!) and Hamilton questioned Miller about the meeting.

Miller testified that there were a couple of topics discussed at the meeting. First there was an issue with her continuing contract and a delay in her recertification. That was apparently due to her having submitted the necessary materials to the State DOE late. Apparently in this connection, Superintendent Short raised a question about Miller having taken a sick day rather than a personal day for a court appearance in September 2007, nearly a year earlier but not mentioned until this meeting. Short told her he didn’t want to take her out of the classroom. Her certification was apparently resolved later. (I use “apparently” here because there were elliptical references to “a court case” and “charges were dropped” and the like, and I don’t know the backstory. Yet.) Miller said that Short gave her two weeks to get a physician’s excuse for the day, but he didn’t follow up and she didn’t, either. She thought it was bizarre that the matter was brought up nearly a year after it occurred and in the context of the meeting in which it was raised.

There was some apparently brief discussion of her public remarks to the BoE in early August, though there was little direct testimony about that discussion.

The main topic of the meeting was the display of religious items in her classroom and the necessity to remove them. She testified that despite asking, she never got a clear idea of what a “display” was, and she asked specifically whether it included her Bible on her desk. She testified that she told Short that she wouldn’t take it off her desk, and Short told her that he wasn’t asking her to remove the Bible, but the Board might require it and then she could file a grievance. Hamilton asked if she knew whether Freshwater had ever been advised that he could file a grievance (she had accompanied him to one meeting with Bill White), and she said he had not.

In extended testimony she showed pictures of the religious materials displayed in Wes Elifritz’s room, including several verses from Psalms 37, a poster on memorizing the 10 Commandments complete with mnemonic advice, a poem about Christians and Christ, and the lyrics of the chorus of a “praise and worship song.” She said as far as she knew the display was still there. When asked, she said the items were grouped together for a purpose, a religious display. Also when asked if one had no exposure to Christianity would one know it’s a religious display, she replied “yes.”

She testified that she asked Superintendent Short why she had to take her “less obvious” materials down when Wes Elifritz didn’t have to take his down. She said she didn’t get a clear answer to that.

Miller testified that she had never had any instruction on the First Amendment Separation Clause. Asked if she had encouraged students at school to embrace Christianity before the Freshwater affair began last year, she readily responded that she had done so. She gave examples in an excited voice. She had prayed over students in the halls and lunchroom, had counseled them to seek Christ, and so on. She said, “I honestly didn’t think that was wrong.” She was very enthusiastic in voice and manner about her proselytizing in the public schools.

Questioned about FCA, she said that she had been a monitor up until this last year, when FCA has not been meeting. She, Wes Elifritz, and another teacher whose name I missed have had several meetings this year with administrators, seeking a way to have FCA meet so that teachers could take a more active role, praying with the students and singing with them, rather than being passive monitors. She said “We wanted to be part of it rather than just stand by. We wanted to pray with the kids and be involved.”

She testified that several parents had written to her at the end of the school year thanking her for being a Christian in a public school. She testified that she never thought that sharing her Christian faith with students in the school was a problem.

As far as I can tell, this woman sees the public middle school as a missionary field for fundamentalist Christian teachers – science teachers. In an earlier post I remarked that Freshwater appeared to be running his own little parochial school embedded in the public schools. He’s not the only one. There’s a group of mutually supporting Christian fundamentalists treating the public schools in Mt. Vernon as a venue to proselytize and convert students in (at least!) the 7th and 8th grades. This matter is going well beyond just Freshwater. There are a fair number of parents here who would be a whole lot less than enthused about having their children in a Fellowship of Christian Athletes in which the regular and dominant adult/teacher presence was actively involved fundamentalist proselytizers and missionaries.

Asked if she is aware of the Board’s “Controversial Issues” policy, she responded that she is not. Asked if she is aware of the Board’s policy on religious issues, she responded that she is not.

Shown the pictures of the injury to Zachary Dennis’ arm, Miller testified that she had never seen that produced by a Tesla coil when she used it in science class in the 1990s. She thought it was either “self induced or from something else.” She testified if she saw an injury like that on a student it would have to be reported to Children’s Services.

Asked about former middle school Principal Koons, Miller testified that he was a strong leader and that he made things clear. He had once admonished her not to wear an FCA t-shirt and to not play music of “praise and worship” in the school. She testified that he told her that he had strong faith and that his admonishment was not personal.

Asked about him, she testified that Freshwater “has an absolute God-given talent for teaching kids.” She described how Freshwater is outside his classroom door just before each class, and greets each student as he or she enters. She testified that when she was teaching 7th grade science, at the beginning of each year she would meet with Freshwater and he would ask her about every kid to find out what ‘hooks’ that student, what would draw the student into participation and learning.

Asked if a teacher should point out when a text was wrong, she replied yes. Had she ever done that? Yes, she said, once the science text had the weight of an ostrich egg wrong. And occasionally there are math errors in her math texts.

Asked if teachers could teach beyond the standards, Miller replied that they could and that she was doing so, currently using an 8th grade math book for a class of advanced 7th graders.

Lori Miller Cross Examination

Cross examination was fairly brief, and will be continued tomorrow after David Millstone, the Board’s attorney, has had an opportunity to listen to the audio file of Lori Miller’s recording of the meeting described above.

Millstone asked Miller if her use of the 8th grade text is part of a curricular program for advanced 7th grade students. She replied that it is.

Millstone asked if Miller had ever observed Freshwater teaching. She said she had. Asked for how long, she replied “Just moments.”

Millstone asked if she had asked anyone if she could tape the meetings. She replied she had not. Did she tape without informing anyone? She replied she had not informed people she was taping, and that the recorder was in her open purse.

Hamilton objected at this stage, arguing that the questions gave the impression that the taping was illegal when in fact under Ohio law there’s no requirement for other parties to be informed they’re being taped. Millstone ended that line of questioning, having made his point.

Millstone asked about the state DOE’s hold on her teaching certificate, and again there were some elliptical comments about the state needing to get some additional material to process her application, and “there were some charges that had not been dropped and the state had to wait for that.”

Asked if she still prayed with students in school, she said she does not, and has not done so since the Freshwater affair began last year.

She testified that she last used in the Tesla coil on students in 2000, the last time she taught science. She described her use as just touching students’ arms with the arc momentarily, just “a fraction of a second if that.” Students also held hands and she shocked one end of the chain so students could see the electricity was conducted to the last student in the chain. She said that she was instructed in the use of the Tesla coil by Jeff George, a now-retired science teacher, and that “if veteran teachers were using it, it was O.K. for me.”

She repeated that she and Wes Elifritz were seeking ways they could become more actively involved in FCA meetings. One strange proposal was to have a “normal” FAC meeting with teachers passively monitoring from 2:30 p.m. (end of students’ day) and 3:00 p.m. (end of teachers’ contract day), and then an active involvement of teachers from 3:00 p.m. to 3:30 p.m. after the teachers’ contract day had ended; this, of course, on school property. She said they had also thought about renting space at the school out of school hours.

The hearing was recessed at this point and will resume tomorrow morning.

34 Comments

You damn atheists already took away prayer in schools. Now you want to take away my right to burn my pupils’ flesh with a cross? What’s next? Will you eliminate the annual Burning of the Witch at the post-prom part? Society will crumble, I tell you.

Egads. It reads like Lori Miller has admitted (I assume under oath) to proselytizing in school. Wouldn’t that be enough to get her sacked? I’m having difficulty in believing that she (and Freshwater’s attorney) would do that, so am I mis-reading the situation?

What this sounds like is a coup d’ecole, so to speak, by a bunch of raging Christian fundamentalists, over a school and possibly a whole school district. They have been allowed to smuggle their religious beliefs into the public schools. It was nothing less than subversion by stealth and through a process of gradual corruption, and it was allowed to happen by a supine and negligent administration - or even possibly a complicit one.

It’s plain that what’s needed here is a thorough house-cleaning which would return teachers and administrators to acceptable standards of professional ethics and to the law of the land.

There are at least four different issues here:
   Proselytizing in school,
   Flouting the school administration,
   Teaching incorrect science,
   Assaulting a student.
Which do you think most concerns the school administration and the hearing?

Dave Luckett said:

It’s plain that what’s needed here is a thorough house-cleaning which would return teachers and administrators to acceptable standards of professional ethics and to the law of the land.

That’s exactly what I was thinking, but my thoughts were a little more harsh. Fire everyone and start over with an entire new staff.

And these are the witnesses for the defense? Seems to me that if you had a choice you would do anything you could to prevent them from presenting such damning testimony. This guy is toast and based on this testimony everyone else should be fired as well. If you think that’s too harsh, just think what your reaction would be if they were all muslims.

Just imagine what the reaction would be if teachers in a public school were actively recruiting for Bahai or Ba’al Peor.

What the politico-religionists won’t tell the faithful is that anyone who wants to conflate church and state is anti-religious freedom. I find it bitterly ironic that Christians at large have been hornswoggled into repeating that getting the state to underwrite religion is somehow good for religious freedom. It is the exact opposite.

As for prayer in schools, everyone still has the right to do that, always have, always will. After all, how could anyone possibly stop you. What you don’t have the right to is public prayer in public schools, never did and never will. But that’s OK, after all, the Bible expressly forbids it.

I know why these guys never read the scientific literature, what I can’t understand is why they never read the Bible either.

DS said:

As for prayer in schools, everyone still has the right to do that, always have, always will. After all, how could anyone possibly stop you. What you don’t have the right to is public prayer in public schools, never did and never will. But that’s OK, after all, the Bible expressly forbids it.

I know why these guys never read the scientific literature, what I can’t understand is why they never read the Bible either.

That’s actually not quite true. You can pray quietly at school, and you can even use a school building for church services when it’s not being used for anything else.

It is illegal, however, for an agent of the state to lead prayer or religious services while in an official capacity. For example, it is perfectly legal to hold a baptism in a national or state park. It is even legal for an off-duty park ranger in civilian clothing to attend such a service. It would be illegal for him to officiate at such a service wearing his park ranger uniform.

Thus, it is legal for two teachers to pray together in the teacher break room. It is legal for school students to say grace over their lunch. It is illegal to do what Freshwater &co. were doing, because they were agents of the state acting in official capacity at the time. No agent of the state can actively recruit for a religion–this amounts to the state underwriting a specific religion.

DPF,

Thanks for the clarification. I stand corrected. I will sit corrected later.

DistendedPendulusFrenulum said: I find it bitterly ironic that Christians at large have been hornswoggled into repeating that getting the state to underwrite religion is somehow good for religious freedom. It is the exact opposite.

Most Americans don’t realize that many Europeans who came to North America in the 1600’s and 1700’s did not come seeking “religious freedom.” They came because their particular flavor of religion was being discriminated against back home and they wanted to set up their own little theocratic colony here so they could be the top dogs and discriminate against everybody else.

Actually, it sounds like that’s what’s happening in Freshwater’s neighborhood, come to think of it.

A great deal of European History that’s contemporaneous with the founding of the US is about various regimes attempting to get out from under the thumb of the Pope, as well as to decouple the office of head of state from that of head of the state church.

And the Framers were most certainly watching. James Madison characterized the reasons for separation of church and state, namely to “keep forever from these shores the ceaseless strife that has soaked the soil of Europe in blood for centuries.”

Again, what the politico-religionists don’t realize is that if the state endorses one religion (or sect, or denomination), it denies religious freedom to every other. Imagine if it became legal for agents of the state to lead prayer, and some school teacher who favoured transubstantiation were to craft a prayer to that effect. What of the consubstantiationists?

There are a fair number of parents here who would be a whole lot less than enthused about having their children in a Fellowship of Christian Athletes in which the regular and dominant adult/teacher presence was actively involved fundamentalist proselytizers and missionaries.

Do you have a rough estimate of the proportion of parents for/against this fundamentalist agenda?

I think they need a much stronger emotional response than “a whole lot less enthused” to achieve anything in the face of such religious zeal. It seems to me that these things persist and grow out of fervent support by the zealots and various combinations of apathy, fear of harming a neighbor, and fear of being demonized by the fundies, on the part of everyone else.

c-serpent said:

Do you have a rough estimate of the proportion of parents for/against this fundamentalist agenda?

I think they need a much stronger emotional response than “a whole lot less enthused” to achieve anything in the face of such religious zeal. It seems to me that these things persist and grow out of fervent support by the zealots and various combinations of apathy, fear of harming a neighbor, and fear of being demonized by the fundies, on the part of everyone else.

I somehow would not be surprised if most of the parents were fine with the religious zeal in their schools. Mt. Vernon is in the middle of the Ohio Bible belt (essentailly any where in rural ohio or south of Rt 70). It’s a fundamentalist paradise. And people who aren’t well they keep their mouth shut for fear of backlash from their neighbors.

Unfortunately some people seem to think that “freedom of religion” means “freedom for us (only), to teach our particular brand of Christianity (only), any time, any where, to anyone, even on the public dime”.

fnxtr said:

Unfortunately some people seem to think that “freedom of religion” means “freedom for us (only), to teach our particular brand of Christianity (only), any time, any where, to anyone, even on the public dime”.

You forgot “on the taxpayer’s dime.”

That’s what I meant by “public dime”.

Maybe “on the registered voter’s dime” would have more effect on Jindal & Co.

fnxtr said:

That’s what I meant by “public dime”.

Maybe “on the registered voter’s dime” would have more effect on Jindal & Co.

Oh, duh. My eyesight must have suddenly devolved.

Bob O’H asked

Egads. It reads like Lori Miller has admitted (I assume under oath) to proselytizing in school. Wouldn’t that be enough to get her sacked? I’m having difficulty in believing that she (and Freshwater’s attorney) would do that, so am I mis-reading the situation?

No, you’re not misreading it. I was flabbergasted at how enthused she was when she was describing her evangelism in the school. And yes, it was under oath. The point Freshwater’s attorney was apparently trying to make with her testimony is that here’s this equally or even more evangelical Christian teacher who hasn’t been disciplined, so the district is specifically targeting Freshwater. That’s a point Miller explicitly and emphatically made in her public remarks to the Board of Education last summer during the big raucous meetings. It’s a kind of left-handed way to try to argue that Freshwater has not been afforded equal protection or non-discriminatory enforcement of policies or something like that. Bizarre, I admit, but that’s the only hypothesis I can think of.

c-serpent asked

Do you have a rough estimate of the proportion of parents for/against this fundamentalist agenda?

Over the last 10 months the support for Freshwater seems to have been boiled down to the hard core of his congregation and other fundamentalist congregations in the county. The Nazarenes, the largest denomination in the county, are all over the place, ranging from support (I got evangelized by one after the hearing today) to (reluctant but real) opposition.

And my “whole lot less that enthused” phrase takes into account the fact that this is a small community, and there are tensions between cleaning house and trying to stay reasonably civil in the community. Outsiders – lawyers, consultants, investigators – can come in and do their stuff and then leave, but most of us will continue to live here after the shouting is over.

Sarah wrote

I somehow would not be surprised if most of the parents were fine with the religious zeal in their schools. Mt. Vernon is in the middle of the Ohio Bible belt (essentially any where in rural ohio or south of Rt 70). It’s a fundamentalist paradise. And people who aren’t well they keep their mouth shut for fear of backlash from their neighbors.

Yup, but it’s not unrelieved by some pockets of sanity. Shoot, I – an ‘out’ atheist – gave a three-Sunday series of talks on evolution, Christian responses to evolution, and morality and evolution at a (liberal) Protestant Church in early February to overflow audiences. There’s a fair-sized Catholic presence, a couple of Episcopal churches, and a sprinkling of other less conservative churches, so it’s not unrelieved fundie-ville.

And some of us don’t keep our mouths shut. :)

RBH, I think you’re right about what Freshwater’s attorney is trying to show. I doubt it would be successful. I can’t imagine trying to get out of a speeding ticket by saying “All those other drivers were doing 80 and didn’t get pulled over, so I thought it was OK.”

c-serpent said:

It seems to me that these things persist and grow out of fervent support by the zealots and various combinations of apathy, fear of harming a neighbor, and fear of being demonized by the fundies, on the part of everyone else.

That is exactly what has happened in a case I know about locally. The teacher even got a fundamentalist State Representative involved (one of the local instigators of introducing antievolutionist legislation in the State House). The administration kept acting like it was walking on eggshells. The teacher ended up getting tenure despite extremely negative reports from his supervising instructor and howls from students and parents about his disparaging other religions and his lack of knowledge of the subject matter.

The students even had his activities on tape and video. Yet he is still in place, is still an idiot, and he bribes his fundamentalist students to give him excellent evaluations. It’s the most crooked scene I have seen in the schools. But nothing is being done about it.

ndt said:

RBH, I think you’re right about what Freshwater’s attorney is trying to show. I doubt it would be successful. I can’t imagine trying to get out of a speeding ticket by saying “All those other drivers were doing 80 and didn’t get pulled over, so I thought it was OK.”

Especially if the driver in question was seen deliberately running over a child in the process.

I don’t imagine that excuse would fly well with God. “See, Lord, I was adulterating too! Why didn’t I get punished?”

I keep seing the term “tesla coil”. I thought it had been established that it was not in fact a tesla coil but some other device.

I’d be interested in more details about this character that Elzinga mentions. Well, any real details really.

Mike Elzinga commenter

That is exactly what has happened in a case I know about locally. The teacher even got a fundamentalist State Representative involved (one of the local instigators of introducing antievolutionist legislation in the State House).

In fact, Thom Collier, a former Ohio state representative who was recently term-limited out of office, is a Freshwater supporter and has attended many sessions of the Freshwater hearing. He’s also listed among the “leaders” on the Community Council for Free Expression. They haven’t yet got around to noticing that he’s no longer a state representative.

Max said:

I keep seing the term “tesla coil”. I thought it had been established that it was not in fact a tesla coil but some other device.

It’s a tesla coil.

RBH said:

Max said:

I keep seing the term “tesla coil”. I thought it had been established that it was not in fact a tesla coil but some other device.

It’s a tesla coil.

What bothers me, as a physicist, is that some of the lawyers refer to the tesla coil as “an electrostatic device,” whereas in fact it is an electrodynamic device.

Lori Miller is spittin’ in your eye, Satan!

“2000 years ago a man died for us. Can’t we do something for him today?” - Bill Buckingham

Dan said:What bothers me, as a physicist, is that some of the lawyers refer to the tesla coil as “an electrostatic device,” whereas in fact it is an electrodynamic device.

Yeah, I’ve pointed that out to the reporters several times, and have been told their editors decided early on that’s how the device would be referred to. The lawyers mostly refer to it as a tesla coil and don’t use the “electrostatic device” phrase – that’s inserted by the reporters/editors.

Max said:

I’d be interested in more details about this character that Elzinga mentions. Well, any real details really.

Obviously it would not be appropriate for me to mention specifics here. The situation is ongoing.

I know the teacher and all the other teachers and parties involved, and I know many of the excruciating details.

But everything at the administrative level is a complete blackout. Anyone familiar with the details (and some of the teachers are more knowledgeable than I) are completely bewildered and frustrated about why nothing was done or is being done. In any rational environment, the teacher in question would have been long gone. In fact, when cuts had to be made, better teachers with seniority were moved instead of him.

Almost everyone I know in this situation suspects some political shenanigans or threats going on. The administrators seem like quivering cowards who can’t get their thoughts together on what to do. So every action on their part is some kind of childish “professional development” activity that this teacher manages to get around if it involves anything difficult.

She said that.. she had a Bible and four devotional books (exhibited to the hearing) on her classroom desk, … named four teachers who have Bibles on their desks in addition to Freshwater… showed that the Bible and devotional books were plainly visible, piled on a corner of the desk… described religious materials displayed on one quadrant of her classroom bulletin board… another middle school teacher, Wes Elifritz, a health teacher, had more elaborate religious materials than hers displayed in his room ..

Doesn’t anybody in this school go to work and just… well, teach!?!

No, you’re not misreading it. I was flabbergasted at how enthused she was when she was describing her evangelism in the school. And yes, it was under oath. The point Freshwater’s attorney was apparently trying to make with her testimony is that here’s this equally or even more evangelical Christian teacher who hasn’t been disciplined, so the district is specifically targeting Freshwater. That’s a point Miller explicitly and emphatically made in her public remarks to the Board of Education last summer during the big raucous meetings. It’s a kind of left-handed way to try to argue that Freshwater has not been afforded equal protection or non-discriminatory enforcement of policies or something like that. Bizarre, I admit, but that’s the only hypothesis I can think of.

Actually, from an administrative point of view, this isn’t that bizarre of an argument. Hamilton is trying to save Freshwater’s job, or more likely, trying to get a settlement that will, at the same time, clear him of any wrongdoing. In order to obtain this he needs to establish a burden of guilt on the administration. That’s what they’re going after, on one of their prongs, the other prong is to discredit the witnesses against him.

Depending on how Ohio education law is written, if Hamilton can establish that Freshwater wasn’t doing anything that any number of other teachers (who were not reprimanded let alone fired) he might establish an argument for unfair treatment. If, at the same time, he can establish that administration knew what he was doing but didn’t tell him it was wrong, Hamilton can argue that not only was Freshwater singled out, but he wasn’t even aware that he was breaking any rules. Unlike normal criminal law, some elements of employment law actually do have an element of “I didn’t know” as a defense.

If Hamilton can get the referee to accept that Freshwater wasn’t doing anything that any number of teachers were openly doing with even tacit or, from their point of view, implied administration knowledge, again depending on how the law is written, he could conceivably win the case.

This actually makes sense of the the attempt to argue that the pictures of the burned arm aren’t real, were faked, self-inflicted, etc. If they can establish a reasonable doubt that the picture presents a legitimate image of the injury inflicted, at the same time providing a parade of teachers in the district that were equally stupid in their use of this equipment, it establishes doubt regarding the severity of the injury. It also establishes an argument that Freshwater was using the same techniques as more senior teachers, department heads, etc., in effect it could establish the argument that, as far as Freshwater knew, administration knew about this perfectly legitimate teaching technique and approved of it. Realistically his department head is, from the point of view of most teachers (whether this is actually the case or not), administration, their boss/supervisor, etc.

I especially like the added touch of having people say “oh yeah, I did this all the time” ten or more years ago. It provides support for Freshwater with little or no ability for anyone to confirm whether they’re telling the truth or not. On top of that the board rep isn’t likely to challenge this statement since, on the face of it, it supports their position. Unfortunately, in reality, it might help establish the following scenario that the defense appears to be trying to build:

1) Freshwater didn’t do anything that another half dozen teachers weren’t doing.

2) The administration was aware of his activities and didn’t explain to him that what he was doing was improper or a violation of board policies or law.

3) The primary incident for which he was fired was:

a) Exaggerated, maybe faked by a kid trying to get his teacher fired.

b) An established part of the department’s teaching strategies.

c) Had been going on for twenty years or more without anyone in administration objecting.

Now really, we know all of these arguments are completely bogus or misrepresented. But if the referee falls for it, it might actually work. At first I really thought that Hamilton was something of a hack, but to be honest this is probably his best bet. I don’t think it will work, Maley’s testimony that he did make attempts to correct Freshwater’s behavior and counseled him (including a formal letter), are very damaging to his argument that administration didn’t make him aware that his actions were grounds for termination. It’s hard to say if that is enough to meet Ohio guidelines.

This might hinge on whether or not the referee buys Hamilton’s attempt to discredit the injury.

RBH and Dan aren’t Tesla coils used to spark off sodium, mercury vapor, etc. street lamps?

Again, if that’s how they want to play, ask the next Lori Miller “And did you, in so doing, realize that you were using an electrodynamic high-voltage device similar to that used to start up powerful street-lamps on the arm of a child placed in your hands?”

I am a European. Didn’t come to USA that long ago but I certainly didn’t come here because of religious reason but for the opportunity USA has to offer

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This page contains a single entry by Richard B. Hoppe published on March 25, 2009 10:33 PM.

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