Former Mount Vernon science teacher John Freshwater had his say last week before the Ohio Supreme Court. Freshwater was fired in 2009 for teaching biological evolution objectively and for discussing evidence pointing to teleology (intentional design or purpose) in the origin and diversity of life.
In my view, the court should reinstate Freshwater and vindicate his teaching approach, but not for the main reason offered in his defense.
Freshwater’s attorneys argued that his “academic freedom” had been violated, which is a dubious claim.
Academic freedom is a concept best applied to postsecondary education, and it has little if any application to K-12 schools, where attendance is compulsory.
Also, while a couple of states (Louisiana and Tennessee) have academic freedom laws for K-12 schools, Ohio does not.
A much better claim would reside with the First Amendment principle that government (including public schools) must be neutral and objective with respect to different religious viewpoints.
Religion, as defined in numerous U.S. court decisions, includes both theistic and atheistic belief systems. When biological evolution (unguided descent from a common ancestry) is taught as the only possible explanation for life and its diversity, this has the effect of indoctrinating students in atheistic/humanistic religion — and this is unconstitutional.
Teachers should be allowed to present scientific evidence pointing to teleological alternatives — including evidence that is consistent with theistic beliefs.
Ten years ago, Freshwater likely would not have been challenged for his teaching methods. From 2002 to 2006, Ohio’s science standards called for “critical analysis” of evolutionary theory (presenting evidence both for and against).
Also, teaching about alternative theories (specifically intelligent design) was permitted, but not required. Those standards were never challenged in court, but the “critical analysis” language was removed in 2006 by liberal activists on the State Board of Education.
This removal left in limbo the question of how to teach origins objectively in public schools.
Ohio’s current science standards do not provide clear guidance on what can and cannot be taught on the subject of biological origins.
To be sure, the standards present an “evolution only” approach, but they do not prohibit a critique of evolution or inclusion of alternatives.
Constitutionally, it seems clear that First Amendment neutrality and objectivity call for the inclusion of multiple perspectives on the issue.
I am writing in response to your March 5 editorial, “Unnecessary risk.” The sequester is not the only unnecessary risk to the economy and America’s future.
You are right to fault congressional Republicans. In October 2010, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell said, “The single most important thing we want to achieve is for President Obama to be a one-term president.” Republicans failed at that and are now even more obstinate than usual.
Still, I believe you are being too easy on President Obama. Both Republicans and Obama would rather blame the bad on the other side than make something good happen and risk having the opposition receive the credit.
About the gun
In response to the thoughtful March 3 letter on the causes of gun violence: The cause of gun violence is the gun (“Research causes of gun violence”).
The gun enables criminals and the mentally ill to carry out their plans and provides the suicide-prone an easy, quick outlet, with no preparation needed.