Freshwater: October 28 hearing notes

The administrative hearing on the termination of John Freshwater resumed Wednesday, October 28, and also met Thursday and Friday. I missed most of Wednesday, but hope to have a summary from another spectator sometime soon. This is a summary of the testimony I heard Wednesday morning.

“Coach” David Daubenmire Direct Examination

The first witness Wednesday was “Coach” David Daubenmire. Daubenmire once taught and coached in the MT. Vernon school system, and then left to teach and coach in London, Ohio, where he and the district were sued by the ACLU for praying with his football players. That case was settled out of court just before going to trial, with the district paying costs. Daubenmire left teaching in 2000 to found Pass the Salt Ministries. He claims a Ph.D. in “scriptural psychology” from some school – possibly Faith Bible College in Missouri. He also claims to be an adjunct professor at Mt. Vernon Nazarene University, where he taught a couple of continuing education classes for teachers, one a two-day workshop on religion in the classroom that Freshwater attended in the early 2000s. That class used a text called Finding Common Ground, which appears to be an eminently respectable guide to religion in public schools and First Amendment issues. A copy was introduced as an exhibit in the hearing.

Daubenmire was also the organizer of “Minutemen United” (whose web site now appears to be defunct; see the pages preserved in the Internet Archive) through which he coordinated picketing at abortion clinics (he testified to that); allegedly photographed license plates of patrons of a nearby strip club and posted them on the web somewhere (I haven’t been able to find documentation of that; see note at the end of this post); and disrupting services at a Baptist church that is accepting of the LGBT community. According to Daubenmire’s testimony, Freshwater joined the Minutemen United Saturday morning picketing at a Columbus abortion clinic several times.

Daubenmire had spoken several times at the middle school and high school Fellowship of Christian Athletes prior to the Freshwater affair. He said his main message was “Living out your faith boldly.” In September 2007 he was invited (by a student) to speak again at the middle school FCA. On his arrival Daubenmire was met by Freshwater who told him there was a problem and that he would not be allowed to speak. Later that day Daubenmire met with Superintendent Steve Short, who Daubenmire says is a good Christian man, who told Daubenmire that he had received a complaint about Daubenmire speaking from a parent. Daubenmire testified that “If I had been a Muslim speaker Mr. Short would have allowed me to speak.”

Daubenmire testified that at that time he was “spittin’ hot” and warned Freshwater that ‘they’ were out to get him, and that he had to push back. He said Freshwater was reluctant to make waves, and that he’d wait and see what happened. Daubenmire testified that he can “smell bigotry,” and that “someone was definitely engaging in viewpoint discrimination.” He testified that he told Freshwater “This isn’t about FCA, it’s about you. If it were me I’d fight back now.” He told Freshwater that if it were him, he’d bring suit. He referred to Superintendent Steve Short as “The man behind the curtain.”

The main burden of Daubenmire’s testimony was that he took responsibility for having organized the April 16, 2008, public demonstration in Mt. Vernon to bring attention to the Freshwater situation. According to Daubenmire, Freshwater called him the morning of April 16 to seek advice, since the school administration had instructed him to remove his Bible from his desk. Daubenmire testified that he told Freshwater “What did I tell you in September, that it’s not about FCA … I can smell it … I see where this is going … I told you so.” He testified that he told Freshwater, “I’m not going to stand by and watch this happen. … you have to take the first strike … I’m going to start working on a statement.”

Daubenmire said he immediately sat down to write a press release, and called a press conference on the public square in Mt. Vernon that afternoon by emailing and faxing reporters. He also called Jeff Cline, a Mt. Vernon resident, to alert him to the press conference. Cline, who has lectured the Board of Education about the “homosexual agenda” on at least one occasion, apparently spread the word in Mt. Vernon to raise a crowd.

Daubenmire said he called Freshwater that afternoon and told him that “they’re are going to take your job and you’re going to spend years trying to get your job back.”

A few minutes before the press conference was due to start, Daubenmire testified that he met with Freshwater and his wife in a hardware store parking lot near the square and showed him the statement he, Daubenmire, had written explaining Freshwater’s position. He testified that Freshwater said words to the effect that ‘If that’s what I’m saying, I should read the statement.’

On their walk to the public square Daubenmire said they met John Fair, a former teacher and coach (and husband of a member of the Mt. Vernon board of education). Daubenmire said that Fair told him, “This is even deeper [possibly “dirtier”] than you know.” Fair later testified that he said no such thing but rather either Freshwater or Daubenmire [I’ll know which sometime soon, I hope] told him that, and that he did not attend the rally but was merely walking past it on his way from the hardware store to his home and that as far as he could see it was all over when he was passing through the public square. This account of Fair’s testimony is second-hand based on a conversation with a spectator the next day of the hearing. Again, I hope to have a first-hand account from a spectator in the hearing. (Note that the Mt. Vernon News has a different version of what Daubenmire claimed Fair said. I’m confident of my quotation.)

Freshwater then read Daubenmire’s statement at the rally and immediately left. Daubenmire stayed, talking with onlookers and reporters.

Daubenmire’s testimony also included numerous asides in which Daubenmire extolled his own role in the situation. He said several times, “It’s what I do. I call press conferences to bring attention to things.” Of his own effectiveness, he said, “I can tell a story about a dog that would make a cat cry.” The basic point of his testimony was that he, Daubenmire, was the initiator and driver of the public hoorah on April 16, and that Freshwater was a passive participant, reading the statement that Daubenmire wrote and then departing. Daubenmire testified that “I kind of threw him in the middle of the fight.”

The Mount Vernon News quoted Daubenmire as saying

“The foundation of our country is Christian,” Daubenmire said. “It is a religion, but atheism is a religion and secular humanism is a religion and they are taught in school.”

The Columbus Dispatch reported that Daubenmire said

“Our culture is Christian. The foundation of our laws is Christian,” he said. “We’ve become so afraid of religion in America that we won’t even acknowledge what’s happened. But it’s history.”

I heard words to those effects but they didn’t make it into my notes as direct quotations. I’ll note that in a local call-in radio show in September 2007 Daubenmire also remarked about “evolutionist religion.” I know that because I was the caller about whom Daubenmire made the remark. The man is about even with Ray Comfort, which is a real tough level to reach.

Later Daubenmire was asked by Freshwater’s advisers, notably Pastor Don Matolyak, to withdraw from participation in the affair, that he was told that “it would be best if he (Daubenmire) weren’t around.” He showed some apparent resentment at that. I recall a radio program around that time in which ‘Coach’ was considerably irritated at having been pushed out of active participation in Freshwater’s resistance, though I can’t find it archived.

I had to leave for a physician’s appointment in Columbus and missed the rest of Wednesday’s testimony. After Daubenmire’s direct and cross examination were finished, John Fair testified briefly, denying that he said what was attributed to him by Daubenmire. Then Tim Keib, who was assistant principal and for several months interim principal in the middle school during the relevant period was called and began his direct examination by R. Kelly Hamilton, Freshwater’s attorney. The Mount Vernon News has a pretty detailed account of the remainder of Wednesday’s testimony.

More on Thursday and Friday as I get to them.

Relevant news stories:
Columbus Dispatch on Wednesday (See also this followup that describes Daubenmire’s motivation to encourage Freshwater to make a public fuss
MVNews on Wednesday
MVNews on Thursday
MVNews on Friday

Note added 11/2/09 re: Daubenmire and the strip club: As far as I can see now there’s no detectable connection between Daubenmire and the activities at the strip club. There once existed a site called “” at which the license plate photos were apparently posted, but the internet archive has only the background skin of the site. So I cannot support the rumor that Daubenmire was involved in that situation.

For those interested (purely academically, of course!) here is a story in a college newspaper by a coed who visited the strip club.