The court ruled 4-3 Tuesday against John Freshwater, who was dismissed after 20 years as a middle-school science teacher in Mount Vernon, Ohio, The Columbus (Ohio) Dispatch reported. Freshwater was represented by the Rutherford Institute, a legal organization that generally defends the right of individuals to express their religious beliefs.
The court said Mount Vernon school officials should not have barred Freshwater from keeping his personal Bible in his desk. But the majority said he was insubordinate when he refused to remove religious items, including a poster showing President George W. Bush and former Secretary of State Colin Powell in prayer, from the classroom.
"Freshwater not only ignored the school district's directive, he defied it," Chief Justice Maureen O'Connor said in the majority opinion. "After he was directed to remove the items, Freshwater deliberately added to them, incorporating the Oxford Bible and Jesus of Nazareth [library books] into the classroom."
Justice Terrence O'Donnell in a dissenting opinion called Freshwater "a veteran science teacher singled out by [the school district] because of his willingness to challenge students in his science classes to think critically about evolutionary theory."
The case began in 2007 when a student complained Freshwater had marked a cross on his arm with a scientific instrument. A state referee recommended his dismissal in 2011.
Freshwater's son told the newspaper his father is now teaching in a private school. The Rutherford Institute said it plans to ask the state court for a rehearing and may appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court.