There's an ugly case brewing in Ohio. A popular middle school science teacher has been ordered to remove his copy of the bible from his desk. On the face of it, I think letting a teacher have a bible on his desk or on his person should not be a problem — it's nothing but a personal tchotchke, and it's not worth fighting over. John Freshwater, though, has made it more than an expression of personal preference. He is proselytizing in the public school classroom. Freshwater is responsible for turning this into a church-state separation case; he's one of those particularly obnoxious Christians who wrap themselves in sanctimony and loudly demand that they have more than a right to believe (a right I would defend), they have a right to tell their students what they must believe, and who uses every opportunity to evangelize in defiance of his professional responsibilities.
The school has a right and an obligation to tell him to knock it off, and if he won't comply, they should hold him in violation of his contract and fire him. But I wouldn't have him fired for being a pretentious Christian, only for refusal to do his job.
There's another reason he should be fired, however, and the school district should take advantage of his intransigence over his stupid bible to kick his sorry ass off the faculty. He's an incompetent science teacher.
In one class, Freshwater used Lego pieces to describe the beginning of the world. He dumped the pieces, then asked students if the Legos could assemble by themselves, said Joe Stuart, 18, assistant editor of the high-school newspaper.
When Freshwater taught students about electrical current, he used a device to leave a red mark in the shape of a cross on the forearms of some students, Stuart said.
"If it were just about the Bible, I don't think people would have a problem with it," Stuart said.
In his evaluations through the 21 years he's worked for the district, Freshwater has drawn consistent praise for his strong rapport with students, broad knowledge of his subject matter and engaging teaching style.
In 2006, he was instructed to remove from his curriculum a handout titled "Darwin's Theory of Evolution — The Premise and the Problem." A parent had questioned its validity and use in a science classroom.
Mr Stuart is wise. It's not the bible at all. It's that he's a deluded creationist teaching lies to students in a science class. Unfortunately, there's little recourse for expelling bad teachers (and his popularity is not an indication that he's a good teacher, don't make that mistake) on the basis of incompetence.
And the cross thing is just plain bizarre. Burning religious symbols into students' flesh is not a way to teach them about the physics of electricity; what next, will he teach about the chemistry of oxidation reactions by burning heretical students at a stake? Even religious parents in the community are disturbed by this kook:
The fax stated, "We are religious people, but we were offended when Mr. Freshwater burned a cross onto the arm of our child. This was done in science class in December 2007, where an electric shock machine was used to burn our child. The burn was severe enough that our child awoke that night with severe pain, and the cross remained there for several weeks. ... We have tried to keep this a private matter and hesitate to tell the whole story to the media for fear that we will be retaliated against."
These same parents also expressed the key issue in separation of church and state:
Short said it is alleged that Freshwater used his classroom to advance religion and that he teaches his own beliefs from the Bible and not the approved curriculum. In the fax, the parents also said, "We are Christians who practice our faith where it belongs, at church and in our home and, most importantly, outside the public classroom, where the law requires a separation of church and state."
Freshwater can believe whatever he wants. When he decides to use his public school classroom to shove his beliefs down student throats, he's in the wrong and should obey the order to keep his class secular. And when his personal beliefs so scramble his judgment that he can't even teach the evidence and logic of science, his professional duty, fire him.