Freshwater: Appeal to the Ohio Supreme Court

Recall that John Freshwater, former middle school science teacher in the Mt. Vernon (Ohio) City Schools, appealed his termination to the Knox County Court of Common Pleas, which denied his appeal. He then appealed to the Ohio 5th District Court of Appeals, which also denied the appeal. Now he is appealing to the Ohio Supreme Court. Today he filed a Memorandum in Support of Jurisdiction (MIS) with that court. The MIS is filed by R. Kelly Hamilton, Freshwater’s personal attorney, who is identified as “Affiliate Attorney with The Rutherford Institute”. The appeal document is up on NCSE’s site.

I have not done a detailed comparison of Freshwater’s (really, Rutherford’s) appeals court brief with the Supreme Court appeal, but a fast reading suggests they make essentially the same arguments.

In the Supreme Court document, which is essentially a condensed version (14 vs. 33 pages) of the brief submitted to the Ohio 5th District Court of Appeals, Freshwater once again makes the academic freedom and free speech arguments that were raised in his 5th District brief, as well as raising the “religious hostility” argument he made in that appeal. Both documents refer to “competing academic theories,” echoing the appeals brief’s claim that Freshwater only taught “alternative theories,” never mentioning the intelligent design and creationist materials he used. His behavior in that regard is called “neutrality toward religion.” The MIS says that

The fact that one competing theory on the formation of the universe and the beginning of life is consistent with the teachings of multiple major world religions simply does not justify interference with students’ and teachers’ academic freedom.

Additionally, the Board’s action manifests a clear and distinct hostility toward the major world religions whose teachings are consistent with the alternative theories discussed in Freshwater’s classes. (pp. 5-6)

As with the appeals court brief, the appeal to the Supreme Court does not actually get around to mentioning just what “alternative theories” Freshwater taught. In sworn testimony in the administrative hearing Freshwater denied teaching creationism. In an interview with faux-historian David Barton, Freshwater claimed to have taught “robust” evolution, teaching the evidence for and against. Now he says he taught “alternative theories.” One wonders what they were. Lysenkoism? Lamarckism? Mutationism? What?

The appeal claims that “Moreover, the academic freedom concern expressed here is of heightened importance because it involves the banishment of academic theories from the classroom based solely on the fact that they are consistent with certain religious traditions.” That is the core of the Rutherford Institute’s approach in this case, and represents an instance of the broader ID strategy to reverse the causal arrow between creationism and religion. It seeks to make the former the prime mover, not the latter. By very carefully not naming the “alternative theories” Freshwater supposedly taught, the Rutherford Institute is once again trying to slide creationism into public school curricula without actually naming it. It’s just coincidence that religion-based creationism is consistent with those alternative academic theories. Nothing to see here, folks. Move along.