Ohio news: No creationist right to burn crosses on junior high science students

December 1, 2010

Oops!  Update and correction, from NCSE, applies equally here:

Update and correction (December 1, 2010): The case is apparently not officially settled after all. What was approved was not the overall proposed settlement, but the terms of the settlement as it concerns Zachary Dennis (a minor) — the “James Doe” of the suit — and it was approved not by the judge presiding over the case, Gregory L. Frost of the Federal District Court for the Southern District of Ohio, but by Licking County Probate Judge Robert Hoover, acting in his role as Juvenile Court Judge for the county. The settlement still needs to be approved by Judge Frost.

John Freshwater’s side finally agreed to a settlement in the suit against him and the local school district prompted by his using an electrical device, a small Tesla coil testing device, to burn crosses on the arms of students.  Thus mostly ends one of the more bizarre stories of creationism and misguided religion in a public school classroom.

Here is the entire story in all its anticlimactic wonder, from the Mount Vernon (Ohio) News:

Judge approves settlement in civil lawsuit

NEWARK — Licking County Probate Judge Robert Hoover on Nov. 23 approved a settlement agreement with regard to the civil lawsuit filed on behalf of Zachary Dennis against suspended Mount Vernon Middle School teacher John Freshwater.

The lawsuit was originally filed in the U.S District Court on June 13, 2008, and included as defendants the Mount Vernon City Schools Board of Education and various school employees. The suit alleged that Freshwater violated the constitutional rights of Zachary Dennis and those of his parents, Stephen and Jennifer Dennis, by, among other things, displaying religious items in his classroom, by teaching intelligent design and by expressing his own religious beliefs to students in the classroom.

The board’s portion of the lawsuit was resolved on or about Aug. 26, 2009, and Freshwater was the sole remaining defendant.

With Judge Hoover’s ruling last Tuesday, the suit against Freshwater was officially settled. The settlement of $475,000 to the Dennis family includes $25,000 for attorney fees, $150,000 each to Stephen and Jennifer, and $150,000 to be used for an annuity for Zachary.

At Panda’s Thumb, Richard B. Hoppe’s complete covering of the case notes that we still await the decision of the referee in the proceeding of John Freshwater’s appeal of his firing, and school board action on that recommendation.

At length, then, officially, it’s a bad idea for a creationist science teacher to burn crosses on the arms of supposedly-willing students using a Tesla coil, in any configuration. Yet to be determined:  May a school board fire a teacher who does that anyway?


Louisiana lashes out at science

June 19, 2008

“Stop the World! I Want to Get Off!” won a Tony Award on Broadway in 1963. It was a musical play about a fellow who overreached. With book and lyrics by Leslie Bricuse and Anthony Newly, it spawned a string of hit popular songs: “What Kind of Fool Am I?” “Gonna Climb a Mountain,” “Once in a Lifetime,” and “Mumbo Jumbo” among them.

Oh, why not: Update, here’s Sammy Davis, Jr., singing “What Kind of Fool Am I?”:

How can one know that history and not think of it, when looking at the current Louisiana legislature? What kind of fools are they, indeed? Louisiana would like the world to stop, so they can get off.

Progress and science so much offend the Louisiana legislature that they have carved out what they hope is an exception so teachers can avoid hard science on issues like reproduction (cloning), evolution, and that pesky weather stuff that ransacked New Orleans, global warming. Sitting on Gov. Bobby Jindal’s desk right now is the enrolled version of S. B. 733, the misnamed “Science Education Act,” which gives teachers and local school districts the right to deviate from state curriculum and science texts in those three areas.

Why not the Big Bang and other cosmology? Why not gravity? Why not algebra? It may be that Louisiana’s preachers don’t know about those areas of science. Shhhhh! Don’t tell them!

A few observations.

First, having been slapped down by federal courts repeatedly when they’ve tried to introduce religion into science classes before, the legislature seems to have learned not to say much, in hopes that federal courts will have difficulty determining the religious intentions behind the bill. In 1987, in the case of Edwards v. Aguillard, federal courts didn’t even get to trial. They simply took the statements of the legislators as to their religious intentions.

This time around, the bill is being passed without debate at all. Legislators obviously hope that if they say nothing, they can’t be held responsible for anything. Better to keep your mouth closed and be thought a fool than to open it and remove all doubts — and obviously, there is hope among Louisiana creationists that federal courts won’t be able to use their closed-mouthedness as to evidence their foolishness. Well, they may want to consider that intelligent design has been ruled religious dogma by a federal court, already.

Second, the legislature’s learnings seem limited to bellicose speeches. The courts have repeatedly struck down Louisiana’s yearnings to teach creationism, both statewide, and repeatedly in the Tangipahoa Parish schools, which tried warning labels on textbooks and a variety of other methods, losing in court each time. It’s not just the ravings of the legislators that get up the dander of the courts. When the laws that come out of the ravings offend the Constitution, especially the First Amendment, the courts have struck them down. It’s not enough to just play at being non-offensive: The actions of the legislature must also not violate the Constitution. They appear not to have figured that one out. (More remedial con law courses coming up? Perhaps.)

The state should just let science be taught. Sneaking religion in does no good for the students, and it’s no secret that’s what they’re doing.

Third, the bill wasn’t drafted by people with much experience drafting legislation, running schools, or defending the Constitution. The bill could be used in some districts to teach nothing but evolution. It opens the door for anything a local school board decides might be science in three specific areas, cloning, evolution and global warming. Fruitcake groups like Ken Ham’s “Answers in Genesis” will rush to produce materials noting the accuracy of Hanna-Barbera’s “Flintstones.” Kids could be allowed to watch cartoons and call it science. In contrast, teachers who don’t understand the science in the first place will probably have few sources to turn to for good science information. Maybe one way to kill the law would be to point out that this thing opens the door wide for the theology of the Flying Spaghetti Monster (may his noodly appendage . . . well, you know).

What you should do: The Louisiana Coalition for Science urges Gov. Jindal to veto the bill; you should call Jindal’s office and urge a veto, too.

You can send e-mail here.

You can mail, or telephone, here:

Mailing Address:

Governor Bobby Jindal
PO Box 94004
Baton Rouge, LA 70804-9004

Phone: 225-342-7015 or 866-366-1121 (Toll Free)
Fax: 225-342-7099

Other sources:

Text of the bill below the fold.

Read the rest of this entry »

Creationist upwelling in Iowa creates muddy water

September 26, 2007

The Des Moines Register followed up on the story of the community college professor who said he was fired for teaching the Bible as literature, and not as religion, in a class on western civilization.

I still think the fired teacher, Steve Bitterman, could have a contract claim against the school.  But the article points out that adjunct faculty often do live in a sort of “adjunct hell,” in which they have few rights, but lots of obligations, all at something less than half-pay.

But that’s not news.

Meanwhile, creationist oppression rolls on

September 22, 2007

While Mark Mathis was leading a bumbling raid on rationalists at Baylor University, Biblical literalists took another scalp in Iowa, of a college instructor this time. Maybe it’s time to beef up tenure, and make it easier to get.

(Maybe I need to add a new category along with “voodoo science” and “voodoo history”: “Voodoo literature.”)

Tip of the old scrub brush to Pharyngula.

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