COLUMBUS, OHIO (CN) – An eighth-grade science teacher culminated a religious crusade in his classroom by burning a cross into a student’s flesh, and the school principal responded to parents’ complaints by writing the teacher a letter, but promised not to put it in the teacher’s personnel file unless he did it again, the parents claim in Federal Court.
On behalf of their son, the John Does parents sued eighth-grade teacher John Freshwater, the Mount Vernon City School District, its Superintendent Stephen Short, and Mount Vernon Middle School Principal William White.
The John Does claim Freshwater has unconstitutionally taught his religious beliefs in his science classes for more than a decade. They claim that in 2003 Freshwater sought, and was denied permission, to teach “intelligent design,” but does it anyway. They claim his classroom is festooned with Biblical posters, that he tells his students that “although he is forced to teach from the textbooks, the teachings are wrong or not proven according to the Bible.”
The complaint states: “On Dec. 6, 2007, Mr. Freshwater burned a cross into James Doe’s arm using an electric device manufactured by Electro-Technic Products, Inc., Model BD-10A. The manufacturer of Model BD-10A warns that the electric device has a high voltage output that should never be used to touch human skin. … Mr. Freshwater applied the electric device to the arm of at least one other eighth grade student on Dec. 6, 2007. The area burned with Model BD-10A resulted in an easily identifiable cross consisting of red welts with blistering, swelling and blanching in the surrounding area.
“On Dec. 7, 2007, John and Jane Doe notified Defendant Superintendent Short regarding Mr. Freshwater’s inappropriate activity in his eighth grade science class. Mr. Freshwater was not disciplined for his actions of Dec. 6, 2007 with regard to the misuse of Model BD-10A. Defendant Principal William D. White wrote a letter to Mr. Freshwater in January 2008, stating that Mr. Freshwater was not to shock children with the device. Defendant Principal White’s letter noted that it would not be placed in Mr. Freshwater’s personnel file unless he shocked his students again.”
The complaint also states that Freshwater, as adviser of the school’s Fellowship of Christian Athletes, claimed to drive Satan out of a speaker at a club meeting, told club members that “they are saved, whereas the other students playing on the playground are going to Hell,” distributed Bibles at school, gave “extra credit” to students who did work on “intelligent design,” and that school administrators knew all this but failed to discipline him for it.
They also claim that after they complained about Freshwater’s constitutional violations, the superintendent promised he would not reveal the Does’ name to Freshwater, but he did reveal it to him.
Plaintiffs demand punitive damages for constitutional damages and retaliation. They are represented by Jessica Philemond.