Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Supreme Court of Ohio upholds teacher's firing for "his refusal to eliminate religious symbols from the classroom – excluding a Bible."

In the latest chapter in a several years long case, the Supreme Court of Ohio has determined that the firing of a teacher by the Mount Vernon City School District Board of Education was valid. The question before the Supreme Court was whether "whether the evidence was sufficient to demonstrate that [the district] terminated [the teacher] for insubordination in refusing to remove religious displays in his classroom after being told to do so, and for continuing to inject his personal religious beliefs into his plan and pattern of instruction, thereby exceeding the bounds of the school district’s bylaws and policies, even after being forbidden to do so." The school district alleged that the teacher injected his own Christian faith into his classroom as early as 1994 and continued to do so right up until he was relieved of his teaching duties and that after the district denied the teacher's 2003 teaching proposal to critically evaluate evolution, the teacher surreptitiously supplemented his eighth-grade science curriculum with, religious handouts, showed videos on creationism and intelligent design, displayed religious materials in his classroom, and made various statements in class referring to the Bible. Conversely, the teacher argued that argues that the board violated his right to academic freedom pursuant to the First Amendment to the United States Constitution when it terminated him based on the content or viewpoint of his curriculum-related academic discussions with students and his use of supplemental academic materials. Evaluating the claim in the context of only R.C. 3319.16, which governs the termination of teacher contracts in Ohio, the Court sided with the school district, finding "ample" evidence to terminate the teacher. The case is Freshwater v. Mt. Vernon City School Dist. Bd. of Edn., Slip Opinion No. 2013-Ohio-5000.