Friday, June 20, 2008

When little constitutional violations become big ones

There were folks, including the Dover school board's attorney Richard Thompson, who called the entire Dover case a "tempest in a teapot." Trying to downplay the religious significance of what they were trying to pull, they said the entire First Amendment case was based on a mere four-paragraph statement, one that only mentioned the concept of intelligent design.

But of course, there is no such thing as a "little constitutional violation" and the following case exemplifies why. Because if ignored, if accepted in the name of tolerance, these little unchecked constitutional violations almost certainly grow to become something much more ugly.

This week, Ohio parents filed suit against their 8th grade son's science teacher John Freshwater and the Mount Vernon School District. The reason? According to an independent consultant's report, in addition to a long list of brazen disregard for his students' First Amendment rights, the teacher used an electro-static device to burn a cross into their kid's forearm.

Yup. You read that right. But don't take my word. Read the story in the Columbus Dispatch and look at the picture.

More importantly, read the consultant's report (PDF). Read all of the report. The much-awaited results of the investigation conducted at the behest of the school district provides details that say Freshwater "undermined science instruction in the public school district by discrediting evolution in his classroom and focusing on creationism and intelligent design." He had been proselytizing and teaching students creationist ideas for as long as 11 years. District administrators had received numerous complaints over the years, but other than asking him to stop, nothing was ever done.

From the report,
"a teacher who was present in Mr. Freshwaters' classroom on a substitute basis for one period in either 2006 or 2007 (The teacher could not recall which year) stated in a written statement (Copy as Attachment 15): "The lesson of the day had been on the creation of the universe. John talked about how the textbook could be wrong. He said, 'Let me give you an example of how science can be wrong.' He then went on to say that an article in Time magazine a few years back stated that scientists had found a genetic link to homosexuality. 'In that case science is wrong because the Bible states that homosexuality is a sin' and so anyone who is gay chooses to be gay and therefore is a sinner. My reaction was one of disbelief that he was saying these things to eighth graders. I thought of how those two or three students in that classroom who might be struggling with their sexual identities would be feeling, hearing that they were sinners from a teacher. ... I was surprised at how comfortable John was talking about the Bible stating that homosexuality is a sin, and that anyone who is gay makes a conscious choice to be so. ... He had no problem declaring that not only can science be wrong by the example he gave, but heavily implied that the students' textbook was wrong as well on how the universe was created."

It's hard to believe, but the report concluded:
Mr. Freshwater did improperly use an electrostatic device on the student who filed the complaint and other students in his science class in a manner that was not in compliance with the manufacturer's instructions. While there did not appear to be any intent by Mr.Freshwater to cause injury to any student, he was not using the device for its intended purpose. Contrary to Mr. Freshwater's statement he simply made an "X" not a "cross," all of the students described the marking as a "cross" and the pictures provided depict a cross."

According to USAToday, quoting from The Mount Vernon News, described how the family, who is remaining anonymous in the suit, sent a fax to the newsroom through their attorney, Jessica Philemond, that said:
"We are religious people, but we were offended when Mr. Freshwater
burned a cross onto the arm of our child," they wrote in a faxed comment
released by their attorney. "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."

They say they were offended, not outraged? And they qualify their reaction by pointing out they are religious people? As if objecting to a teacher burning a religious emblem into your kid's flesh could be misconstrued as, perhaps, intolerant?

But, sadly, in the next paragraph, they reveal the insanity of this situation when they explain their hesitancy to come forward:
.... 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.

Panda's Thumb has the latest updates.

Lauri in York

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4 Comments:

Anonymous Atheism Quotes said...

I think I'm going to be sick.

8:10 AM  
Anonymous Chris said...

I'm confused about one thing.... the articles all point out how the teacher said it was an "X" and not a cross, and that this went on for years.

So how is burning ANYTHING onto students' arms with an "electrostatic device" okay??

11:04 AM  
Anonymous Andy said...

I know, right. "Oh, it was an X? Oh, in that case..."

FYI, the teacher was fired on Friday. The vote of the school board was unanimous, 5-0.

4:50 PM  
Anonymous Alan said...

Thank goodness they finaly got rid of this creep. Here is the AU discussion, with a some local knowledge and reports from the field.

http://blog.au.org/2008/05/08/mr-freshwaters-war-discord-among-ohio-students-shows-need-for-school-neutrality-on-religion/

10:25 PM  

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