Teacher probed for allegedly teaching religion in science class

MOUNT VERNON - A Mount Vernon City Schools' science teacher has a monitor in his classes these days after he allegedly promoted Christianity in his classroom and used a hand-held laboratory electricity generator to mark crosses onto the skin of students.

The school district expects to complete an investigation by the end of the month concerning allegations that John Freshwater, who has taught in the Mount Vernon schools for 21 years, promoted his Christian beliefs in class.

According to Superintendent Steve Short, the school launched the investigation after the parents of one of Freshwater's students complained about their son being marked with the generator. According to the complaint, the student said the pain was severe enough to prevent him from sleeping at night. The complaint also claimed that Freshwater displayed the Ten Commandments in his classroom, kept multiple Bibles in his classroom to pass out to students, and taught his own beliefs from the Bible.

The Columbus Dispatch reported the middle-school science teacher used the generator to "burn" a cross on their son's forearm. The device is used to ionize gases in laboratory experiments so students can identify gases by the different colors each emits in an electrical field.

Last month, Short ordered Freshwater to remove a Bible and Ten Commandments posters from his classroom. Freshwater removed the items, however, he objected to removing his personal Bible from his desk, considering that an infringement of his rights under the First Amendment of the United States Constitution (see here).

"This is not about his personal Bible on his desktop. It is about the totality of his conduct. As a public-school system we cannot teach, promote, or favor any religion or religious beliefs," Short said.

An estimated 200 people, mostly Freshwater supporters, attended a school board meeting last week. "If you throw the Bible out, you throw God out. And if you throw God out, you throw what's right out," one supporter told board members, according to The Dispatch (see here).

However Knox County resident Richard Hoppe said Freshwater should not express religious views in class. "Mr. Freshwater is free to believe whatever he wishes. ... However, when he ... is in his classroom, that freedom is limited by the Constitution," Hoppe said.

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