Freshwater v. Mt. Vernon City School

This week, the Ohio Supreme Court issued a sharply divided 4-3 opinion in Freshwater v. Mt. Vernon City School Dist. Bd. of Edn., Slip Opinion No. 2013-Ohio-5000(Nov. 19, 2013), which held that the Mt. Vernon City School District had “good and just cause” under Ohio Revised Code §3319.16 for terminating a controversial middle school science teacher for insubordination because he refused to remove religious displays from his classroom after being ordered to do so. While the Court also held that the school district violated Freshwater’s First Amendment rights when it ordered him to remove his personal Bible from his desk, the firing was affirmed because Freshwater’s refusal to remove other religious materials on display in his classroom supplied sufficient “good and just cause” for termination required under §3319.16 for terminating a public school teacher’s contract. Having upheld the insubordination finding, the Court avoided having to address the more thorny constitutional issue of whether the teacher impermissibly imposed his religious beliefs in his classroom.

In 2007, a student and his parents claimed that Freshwater: (1) used an electrostatic device to make a mark on the student’s arm resembling a cross; (2) participated in the student group Fellowship of Christian Athletes when he was only permitted to monitor it; and, (3) had religious materials in his classroom.

School officials repeatedly told Freshwater to remove religious icons and materials from his classroom, including a collage incorporating the Ten Commandments and a poster showing a Biblical verse. Freshwater was also informed that Bibles and other religious materials needed to be kept out of the students’ sight. Freshwater did not listen. In fact, disregarding the school’s instructions, Freshwater checked out two religious books from the school library and displayed them in his classroom.
Continue Reading Ohio Supreme Court Holds A Public Teacher Shall Not Disobey a School Board’s Directive Not To Display Religious Materials in the Classroom