Thursday, April 17, 2008

What Establishment of Religion Looks Like

There are probably many teachers who have Bibles in their classrooms and it's never a problem.

There were probably times when I had a Bible in my classroom. In fact, I'm not completely sure how one teaches western civilization and the persistent conflicts between the church and the state without some understanding of the Book of Matthew.

That said, an Ohio teacher provides a field guide for those who would establish religion in the public schools.

He led his football players in prayers before games; before practices; before meetings. His district had to settle a $18,000 suit as a result. Later, he taught Intelligent design. More recently he posted the Ten Commandments on his classroom door, and now, supported by a religious activist, refuses to remove a Bible from the view of his students.

His persistent effort over time to impose his strongly held views promoting a specific religion smells like ...establishment.

This from the Columbus Dispatch:

Teacher, school district battle over Bible in classroom

A Mount Vernon science teacher said today that he will refuse to remove a Bible from his classroom desk, despite his school district's order.

"Thousands of citizens in this community have built their lives on deeply held religious convictions, and it is for them that I stand today," John Freshwater, 51, who teaches at Mount Vernon Middle School, said in a news release.

The religious activist Dave Daubenmire, Freshwater's friend, acted as his spokesman today. "This is not a religion issue; this is a free-speech issue," Daubenmire said. "He didn't take the Bible to read to anybody."

Mount Vernon Superintendent Steve Short said Freshwater's characterization of the events leading to the district order that he remove religious items from his classroom was "not entirely accurate," but Short wouldn't elaborate.

The district later released a one-paragraph statement saying that district officials don't oppose religion but are required "under the First Amendment of the United States Constitution to protect against the establishment of religion in the schools. As a public school system the district cannot teach, promote or favor any religion or religious beliefs."

Freshwater and Daubenmire believe that separation of church and state "is a fraud" and that the framers of the Constitution never intended it to be practiced the way it is today, Daubenmire said.

The district asked Freshwater last week to remove the Ten Commandments from the door to his classroom and to remove the Bible from the view of students. About 3,900 students attend Mount Vernon schools. Mount Vernon is about 52 miles northeast of Columbus.

Freshwater took down the Ten Commandments but decided that being prevented from taking a Bible into the classroom was going too far.

In the past, Freshwater has taught his students about the "holes in evolution" and intelligent design, the theory that a supernatural power created complex forms of life, Daubenmire said.

"Would our government ask a follower of Islam to remove her burqa in order to teach school?" Freshwater said in his written statement. "Would we ask a science teacher to remove The Origin of Species from his desk merely because the origin of man has never been proven?

"I cannot with a clear conscience follow a directive that makes religion and the religious viewpoint any less credible by those who deem themselves more enlightened."

Freshwater wouldn't answer questions directly because of the likelihood he will file a lawsuit charging "viewpoint discrimination," Daubenmire said.

Daubenmire is the former London High School football coach whose district was sued in 1999 by the American Civil Liberties Union because he led his players in prayer at games, practices and meetings. The district settled out of court, and its insurance company paid the ACLU $18,000 for court costs.

And this from the Mount Vernon News: Photo by Pamela Schehl.

AUDIO of Rally.
MOUNT VERNON — Nearly 100 people gathered on Mount Vernon’s Public Square on Wednesday afternoon, in a show of support for middle school science teacher John Freshwater.

The Mount Vernon City School administration has demanded Freshwater remove a Bible from his desk at school, even though a Bible has been a fixture in his classroom for many years.

The school district told Freshwater he cannot, as a public school teacher, engage in any activity that promotes or denigrates a particular religion.

Freshwater complied with a request to remove a a copy of the 10 commandments from display in his classroom, but is resistant to removing the Bible. He said the district’s mandate is an infringement of his First Amendment rights to free speech and to freely express his beliefs.

It is unclear as to what prompted the school district’s action.

September 12, 2007:
Parents’ objections spark cancellation of FCA speaker—Administrators of public institutions, such as schools, are sometimes caught up in a balancing act, trying to ensure the rights of citizens are not violated while at the same time following established rules and procedures. That seems to be the case with regard to an occurrence Tuesday at Mount Vernon Middle School.

June 3, 2003:
Mount Vernon Board of Education turns down proposal— The Mount Vernon Board of Education turned down a proposal on the teaching of evolution at its board meeting Monday at the Mount Vernon Middle School library.

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