June 20, 2008— -- The school board of a small central Ohio community voted Friday to fire a teacher accused of preaching his Christian beliefs despite staff complaints and burning the image of a cross on students' arms, according to the Associated Press.
Mount Vernon Middle School veteran science teacher John Freshwater has denies any wrongdoing, his attorney told the Mount Vernon News.
Freshwater also displayed the Ten Commandments in his classroom and taught creationism, according to an independent investigation launched after the parents of the student who was allegedly branded filed a lawsuit.
The suit alleges that he regularly discussed Christianity in his science class, even "teaching the meaning of Easter and Good Friday," and kept at least one and sometimes several Bibles in the room.
The investigation commissioned by the Mount Vernon school board and conducted by HR On Call, Inc., a human resources company, conducted interviews with Freshwater, faculty and students.
In its report, released Thursday, the company found Freshwater "did improperly use an electrostatic device on the student who filed the report" and had violated Ohio State standards by "teaching creationism and intelligent design."
According to On Call's report, Freshwater told investigators, "I teach evolution."
Company investigators, however, concluded that "contrary to Mr. Freshwater's statement, the evidence indicates he has been teaching creationism and intelligent design and has been teaching the unreliability of carbon dating in support of opposition to evolution. He has passed out materials to students for the past several years challenging evolution and then collected the materials back from the students. He has done so in spite of specific directives not to teach creationism and intelligent design."
In the civil suit brought against Freshwater, the plaintiffs – the student, identified as James Doe, and his parents, identified as John and Jane Doe – allege that in December 2007, "Mr. Freshwater burned a cross in James Doe's arm using an electric device."
The burned area allegedly "resulted in an easily identifiable cross consisting of red welts with blistering, swelling and blanching in the surrounding area," according to the lawsuit.
No criminal charges have been filed in connection with the cross incident, school officials said.
On April 7, 2008, Freshwater received a letter from the school's principal, William D. White, ordering him to remove a Bible and other religious materials from his classroom.
On April 16, Freshwater wrote a letter in response, agreeing to remove the Ten Commandments from a collage, but he refused to remove his Bible.
"In addition, my superiors have ordered me to remove the Bible from the desk of my classroom. Because the Bible is personal, private property and the source of personal inner-strength in my own life the removal of it from my desk would be nothing short of infringement on my own deeply held, personal religious beliefs granted by God and guaranteed under the 'free-exercise clause' of the First Amendment to the United States Constitution," Freshwater wrote in a letter obtained by ABC News.
Neither Freshwater nor his attorney, Roger Weaver, returned calls placed by ABC News.
The teacher's friend, David Daubenmire, who was himself sued by the ACLU in 1999 for praying with the high school football team he coached, called the accusations against Freshwater a "witch hunt."
"The science experiment [the alleged burning of the student] took place in December, and the parents did not go to the police and didn't file a criminal complaint. It was not until April, when John Freshwater refused to remove his Bible, that the school board rapidly made the decision to accuse him of things and then go back and find evidence," he said.
"With the exception of the science experiment, John Freshwater is teaching the beliefs and values that the majority of people in this community agree with. The only thing the On Call report found is evidence that Mr. Freshwater is a Christian."
Stephen Short, the district superintendent, who along with the principal is also named as a co-defendant, told ABC News that the school board began investigating "with the cross incident and other things followed after that."
He said he could not comment on details of the case because it was a pending legal matter. The board hired an independent company "to ensure the findings were properly vetted."
He said both he and Principal White did not take their current positions until early in 2008.
School board members were scheduled to meet Friday afternoon to discuss the findings in On Call's report.