Cleveland, OH, November 20, 2013 … The Anti-Defamation League (ADL) said today that the Ohio Supreme Court was correct in upholding the dismissal of a public school teacher who injected religion into his science class.  However, the League expressed deep concern about language in the court’s opinion that could open the door to teachers displaying Bibles, Korans, or other sacred texts in their classrooms for non-educational purposes.

In 2011, the Mount Vernon City School District terminated a middle-school science teacher, John Freshwater, for repeatedly flouting district directives prohibiting the teaching of creationism, as well as overtly posting religious displays in his classroom.  On appeal, the Ohio Supreme Court upheld the termination on insubordination grounds.

Anita Gray, ADL Ohio Regional Director, issued the following statement:

We welcome the outcome of this case and the court’s determination that Freshwater’s dismissal was appropriate.  However, we have significant concerns about portions of the opinion.

Although the court explicitly declined to address constitutional issues, we are deeply troubled by its reasoning regarding Freshwater’s placement of a Bible on his desk.  Public schools are allowed to teach about religion in an objective manner and use religious texts in certain contexts – for instance, in a “Bible as Literature” course.  But this case involved the science classroom.  Yet the court problematically determined that the teacher’s placement of a Bible on his desk for religious reasons, even during class time, did not raise serious issues regarding the separation of church and state.  To the contrary: according to the court, the district should not have directed Freshwater to remove the Bible from his desk.

In asserting this, the court failed to recognize that in science or any other class where there is no instruction about religion, Bibles have no educational purpose, and therefore should not be displayed in the classroom, including on a teacher’s desk.  Because a teacher is a school district’s representative in the classroom, the Bible’s presence there inevitably sends the impermissible message that the school favors a particular faith, or religion generally, in violation of the First Amendment’s Establishment Clause.

ADL joined with Americans United for Separation of Church and State to file an amicus brief in this case.  The brief was prepared by the law firm of Mayer Brown LLP.

The Anti-Defamation League, founded in 1913, is the world’s leading organization fighting anti-Semitism through programs and services that counteract hatred, prejudice and bigotry. Follow us on Twitter: @ADL_News