Humanist and secular groups Thursday joined the side of a school board in a court fight over the firing of a public school science teacher who kept a Bible on his desk and was accused of preaching religious beliefs in class.
The Mount Vernon School Board dismissed John Freshwater last year after investigators reported he preached Christian beliefs in class when discussing topics such as evolution and homosexuality and was insubordinate in failing to remove the Bible from his classroom.
Two lower courts previously upheld the dismissal, but the state Supreme Court has agreed to hear a portion of Freshwater’s claims over his firing.
The court has said Freshwater can argue it is unconstitutional to fire someone without clear guidance on what teaching materials or methods are acceptable. Freshwater also can argue it is unconstitutional to fire someone over the mere presence of a religious text such in a classroom.
The First Amendment prohibits the government from punishing Freshwater for views he expresses in his private life but requires the state prohibit him from pushing his views as a representative of the government, particularly when those views are religious, an attorney for the American Humanist Association and the Secular Student Alliance argued in a court filing Thursday.
“Refusing to teach evolution is reason enough to fire a teacher,” the attorney, William Burgess, said in an interview Thursday. “Refusing to just teach the curriculum is reason enough to fire the teacher. SDLq