Freshwater Oral Arguments Today

You are probably aware of the seemingly endless litigation about John Freshwater, the 8th-grade science teacher in Ohio who was accused of burning a cross on a student with a Tesla coil, teaching religion in his science class, and failing to follow the school district’s orders. Freshwater claimed that the district wanted to fire him only because he refused to remove a bible from his desk.

His case has dragged on for years — first in the form of an administrative hearing, which he lost, and then in a series of court cases challenging that, which he also lost. Now the thing has worked its way up to the state’s Supreme Court. Oral argument is scheduled for this morning, and you can watch that live here.

[Addendum: An archived video is now available: video of the Freshwater oral argument.]

Richard B. Hoppe has carried the burden of posting about this case at Panda’s Thumb, and you can see his latest here: Freshwater: Ohio Supreme Court oral arguments next week. Don’t be misled by that title; Richard posted it last week. Today is the day.

According to the court’s published schedule, the Freshwater case is the second of four cases that are scheduled for oral argument at 9:00 this morning — Ohio time. Ohio seems to be in the Eastern time zone — whatever that may mean to our readers in Australia (due to their upside-down environment, we assume they’re used to performing all sorts of temporal and spatial conversions). Anyway, that’s the only information we have about the timing of this event.

Freshwater lost at every earlier stage of this shabby affair, and no one can figure out why the Ohio Supreme Court decided to hear his appeal, but they did, so there’s a chance that something crazy might result. We don’t think that’s very likely, but judges sometimes do crazy things.

Oral argument at this level could be nothing but a big bore, with the lawyers droning on and on and the judges remaining silent. But these events are often vigorous, with good questions from well-prepared judges. It all depends on how interested they are. This isn’t some dreary dispute about calculating the sales tax, so it might be fun to watch.

Until the Coppedge case moves up to the appellate level, this is the only creationist courtroom show that’s going on at the moment. You wouldn’t want to miss it, would you? Hey, it’s gotta be more interesting than watching Congress.

Copyright © 2013. The Sensuous Curmudgeon. All rights reserved.

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21 responses to “Freshwater Oral Arguments Today

  1. I can’t get the sound to work, so I’ll have to watch a tape of it later.

  2. It was over at 10:30 am EST. I just caught the last 10 minutes or so, so I can’t fill you in. Freshwater’s attorney was stating her client’s case.

  3. The feed was very fragmented. Hopefully an archive will be available later on.

  4. I got the whole feed without problems. My own impression (and I’m not a lawyer) is that it was a failure. Several people at the Panda’s Thumb feel that way, too. When you get a justice asserting, without being challenged, that evolution is a theory …

  5. My first reaction was “Ugh! That insurance company lawyer arguing for the Board not only dropped the ball, he lost it under the table.” That was a lousy job of arguing his client’s case. He appeared ill at ease and unprepared. In the several years I’ve watched this case I never encountered him.

    Video of the oral arguments should be on the Ohio Channel site tonight, I’m told.

  6. This is what creationists and discoveroids dream about, court cases that decide science rather than let the scientists speak to their evidence. It’s a clever trick indeed, particularly when you have justices partial to the “just a theory” take on science and can be readily swayed by idiotic arguments.

  7. RBH said: “Video of the oral arguments should be on the Ohio Channel site tonight, I’m told.”

    It’s already available: video of the Freshwater oral argument.

  8. watching now. Freshwater’s attorney was good from a legal and quick on her feet perspective. Very troubled by some justices questions which seem to feel it is reasonable to teach 2 points of view.
    Now listening to School Board rep….
    Judges are very active in questioning. Hoping they don’t revisit the entire case without scientists present. “It is theory is it nor??” says judge…oh-oh.
    Includes origin of life as well as evolution. “you lay that all on an eighth grader who’se been going to catechism with his parents on Sunday and there’s going to be some questions.” Whoo boy. Multiple judges don’t seem to get it and the attorney for the Board is bumbling.

  9. wow…just finished the whole thing. I’d say that Freshwater is going to win based on the intense questioning of the judges, the incompetence of the Board attorney and very little questioning about Freshwaters actions. His attorney was very smart & prepared & she blitzed the Boards attorney who couldn’t even remember which cases to cite. Bummer…but I think he gets his job back if the decision reflects the questioning.

  10. I’m half hoping Freshwater wins this appeal because if he does, I think the next appeal will highlight the fact that the members of the Ohio Supreme Court are incompetent jurists on a national scale. If any of justices think that in this age of instant information, their childish musings will remain confined to the courtroom, they’re in for a rude awakening.
    This, from Panda’s Thumb, is priceless in a depressing sort of way, but great late night fodder.
    “Justice Pfeiffer’s mocking the “theory” of evolution by describing his feeling dubious about the “cows in his pasture and weeds in his yards” being interconnected with his own life.”
    He ain’t kin to no cow!

  11. Yes, but if it went to the SCOTUS, there are 5 right-wingers who would likely support creationism, and some have openly (Scalia) supported it.

  12. I confess I’m not up on this case, but if he used a few thousand volts of electricity to burn a permanent scar into a student’s skin, why are they talking about evolution in the Ohio Supreme Court? That’s not enough to fire the guy?

  13. David said:

    This is what creationists and discoveroids dream about, court cases that decide science rather than let the scientists speak to their evidence.

    Actually, courts decide what is science all the time. Are fingerprints admissable evidence? Or DNA? The courts have to decide that. There was a video of Judge Jones (of Kitzmiller fame) in which he tore into the creationists who made the argument “courts don’t decide what is science”. He explained that, “Yes, we do. All the time.” Unfortunately, when you get some good, ol’ boys who ain’t no kin to no cows(!), then all bets are off as to whether they will decide wisely. Something tells me they could have brought in a ton of scientific experts and these guys would have smugly said, “Thanks. We know what we’re doing.”

  14. RSG said:

    I confess I’m not up on this case, but if he used a few thousand volts of electricity to burn a permanent scar into a student’s skin, why are they talking about evolution in the Ohio Supreme Court?

    Actually, as I understand it, there was not as much to that as people were made to believe. Wish I could find the appropriate places to send you, but I’m not finding them right now. If you look through the Panda’s Thumb archives, I think you’ll find the details there. Point is that this guy had no business in front of a classroom, and that’s what he was really fired for. He couldn’t keep his personal opinions to himself and decided that a bout of good, ole, down home, foot-stompin’, rafter-raisin’ proselytizing was juuuuust what the kiddies needed.

  15. Thanks, Gary. Good to see your old avatar back in service!

  16. This may be of interest — all six seats on the Ohio Supreme Court are elected at large by the voters of Ohio for staggered six-year terms. There are currently five Republican-nominated justices, including Chief Justice Maureen O’Connor, and just one Democrat. In order to run for a seat on the court, a person must be admitted to the Bar in Ohio, and have practiced as a lawyer or served as a judge for at least six years.

    @Garystat1: Looks like all bets may be off as to that thing about deciding science questions wisely.

    @Dean: Thanks for the link to NCSE’s site. This is from that link (bold added):

    ” The Board determined that Freshwater had proselytized in class, had taught creationism, omitted required material on evolution, and had branded students using a Tesla coil. Stephen & Jenifer Dennis, the parents of one child who had been branded with a Christian cross, filed suit against Freshwater and the district. (That suit was settled with a significant monetary award to the Dennis family in September of 2009.)

    Looks like the Tesla coil thing was a big deal. The question I raised earlier stands — That’s not enough to fire the guy?

  17. “Justice Pfeiffer’s mocking the “theory” of evolution by describing his feeling dubious about the “cows in his pasture and weeds in his yards” being interconnected with his own life.”

    Bovine bewilderment jurisprudence?

  18. It seems to me that a likely ruling will be that the case should be referred back to the lower courts for more evidence. A number of the questions seemed to be about things that were not covered by the lower courts. If so, then they should have evidence and testimony about those issues, rather than ruling on what they think is the case. I suggest that the issue of whether there is a real scientific controversy about evolution (is evolution just a theory?) would have to be argued (if my memory serves me correctly, that sort of thing was avoided in the earlier hearings).

  19. Teacher John Frystudent was defended by lawyers from The Rutherford Institute. What is The Rutherford Institute?

    I posted this at Panda’s Thumb, but since Sensh follows legal issues with avidity, it should be brought to his attention.

    Rutherford was funded by John Whitehead, who worked with Reconstructionist christofascist Rousas Rushdoony! Whitehead is apparently a Reconstructionist and helped to merge the Reconstructionist and neo-Confederate movements. Whitehead is a Confederate and apologist for the slave powers!

    He was also in the infamous Dominionist Coalition on Revival [COR] with Rushdoony, Duane Gish, D. James Kennedy etc.

    We all know Rushdoony right– pro-eugenics, Holocaust-denying, racist totalitarian Rushdoony, who wanted to destroy the Civil Rights movement and re-legalize slavery and Levitican homo-killin’ Law in the USA! Rushdoony, spiritual guru to Howard Ahmanson, the billionaire fascist who funds the Discovery Institute. Rushdoony, who brokered the 1961 publication of Henry Morris’ fraud The Genesis Flood that got us into this creationist mess.

    Here’s a typical quote from his buddy in homo-killin’, John Whitehead:


    “The [Supreme] Court, by seeking to equate Christianity with other religions, merely assaults the one faith. The Court in essence is assailing the true God by democratizing the Christian religion.” [John Whitehead]

    The following quotes are from Tom McIver’s thesis on creationism, the parts regarding Whitehead and the Rutherford Institute:

    Tom McIver wrote:

    Reconstructionist John Whitehead, following Rushdoony, switches the order around: he argues that the South defended slavery only because the heretical, revolutionary abolitionists sought to destroy the whole Christian, Calvinist, Southern way of life, of which slavery was but a part. In order to prevent this anti-Christian attack, Southerners were obliged to defend slavery.

    “The abolitionists, while utilizing the slave issue as a base, had a more fundamental motive than slavery for attacking the South” (1977:70): namely, destruction of the Calvinist, Bible-based society of the South. Whitehead, quoting a Calvinist theologian and historian, writes:

    ‘The leaders of the South and the Democrats in the North opposed the abolitionist movement, not because of slavery per se “but because of the philosophy and theology which it [abolitionism?] represented and because they clearly saw that if this radicalism were to gain supremacy in the national government then there must certainly come in its wake a radical political and social program which would threaten the established order and constitutional government for the nation as a whole.”’ [1977:71]

    [McIver's thesis, p.33]


    John Whitehead co-authored with former Congressman John Conlan the seminal 1978 law review article, “The Establishment of Secular Humanism and Its First Amendment Implications,” that defined secular humanism as the cause of society’s evils. Whitehead is founder and president of the Rutherford Institute, which is active in many important religious rights cases, including creationism cases. The Institute is named after Samuel Rutherford (eulogized by D. James Kennedy) who, in his 1644 Lex Rex, argued against the “divine right” of kings, declaring that the law—God’s sovereign Law—was king, and not vice-versa (not ‘Rex Lex’). Rushdoony’s Chalcedon Foundation was “instrumental in establishing the Rutherford Institute,” according to Rutherford promotional literature. In a 1977 book, The Separation Illusion, heavily influenced by Rushdoony (who wrote the Foreword), Whitehead dismissed democracy as mob rule, and explained that religion was never intended to be separated from government. Whitehead, as already noted, defended the Calvinist South against the Northern Unitarian-Statist aggressors in the Civil War.

    [McIver's thesis, p.246]

    As for Whitehead being in the infamous Dominionist Coalition on Revival with Rushdoony and Duane Gish, there’s this, from another source.


    The Coalition on Revival (founded 1982) provides a wonderful snapshot of the extent of the influence on the Christian Right, and even on the secular Right, that Reconstructionism wields at this point in time. Clarkson points out in his book, on Pages 97 and 98, who the members of the Coalition on Revival were at the time of formation. Those members included: John Whitehead (president of the Rutherford Institute (see also this link and this link), Michael Farris (founder Patrick Henry College and the Home School Legal Defence Association), Randall Terry (Operation Rescue anti-abortion group), Franky Schaeffer (Francis Schaeffer’s son from Eagle Forum), Don Wildmon (American Family Association), Beverly LaHaye (Concerned Women for America), Connaught Marshner (Free Congress Foundation), Dr. Stephen Hotze (Houston GOP, see http://www.talk2action.org/story/2005/11/23/85532/138), Robert Dugan (National Association of Evangelicals), former Representative Bill Dannemeyer (Republican politician from California), Timothy LaHaye (televangelist), Ron Haus (televangelist), D. James Kennedy (televangelist, Coral Ridge Ministries), and the following: R.J. Rushdoony, Gary North, Joseph Morecraft (Chalcedon Presbyterian Church – see also http://www.chalcedon.org/), David Chilton, Gary DeMar (American Vision, Rus Walton (deceased, Plymouth Rock Foundation) and the Reverend Raymond Joseph.

    [“Invitation to a Stoning"]

    OK, so John Frystudent’s pretty lady lawyer works for fascists trying to re-establish the Slave Powers.

  20. Over at Panda’s Thumb, Harold the pathologist has corrected me, pointing out that the actual track record of the Rutherford Institute is a mixed bag, with them sometimes taking up the side of Muslims, Jews, and racial minorities.