Freshwater v. Mount Vernon City School District Board of Education

AU's Role: 
AU's Involvement Began: 
October 2012
Status: 
In 2008, the Mount Vernon City School District began an investigation into eighth-grade science teacher John Freshwater, after the parents of one of Freshwater’s students complained that Freshwater had used a Tesla coil to brand a cross on the student’s arm.  Over the course of the investigation, the school district found evidence that Freshwater kept a Bible on his desk and a copy of the Ten Commandments on the classroom bulletin board, proselytized to students, and taught creationism and intelligent design in place of the standard science curriculum.  Freshwater had ignored multiple warnings from school administrators to stop teaching creationism and to take down the religious displays.  After conducting a lengthy hearing, a referee recommended that the board of education fire Freshwater; the school district accepted this recommendation and terminated Freshwater’s employment. 
 
After his termination was affirmed by two lower courts, the Ohio Supreme Court agreed to hear Freshwater’s claims that the school district violated his free speech rights. In October 2012, joined by the Anti-Defamation League, we filed an amicus brief in the Ohio Supreme Court, arguing that the school district properly terminated Freshwater and that the First Amendment does not allow public-school teachers “to impose their faith on their students.”  
 
In November 2013, the Ohio Supreme Court issued a 4-3 decision upholding the firing. The U.S. Supreme Court then denied the teacher's petition for review of the case.