Ohio Science Teacher In Danger of Losing Job

on June 28, 2008

CNN: “Teacher Accused of Burning Cross on Student’s Arm” It’s the sad sort of story that matches up perfectly with a frequent media stereotype of fundamentalist Christians: an Ohio science teacher, already said to have been teaching creationism, has been accused of burning a cross into a student’s arm.

John Freshwater, an eighth-grade science teacher of 21 years in Mount Vernon, Ohio, is now in danger of losing his job after allegedly using an electrostatic device to burn a cross on the arm of one of his students. The student’s family claimed the burn caused pain to the student on the night of the incident. The student’s family is now responding with a lawsuit.

“[S]cience is wrong because the Bible states that homosexuality is a sin and so anyone who is gay chooses to be gay and is therefore a sinner.”

Previously, Freshwater has been the center of controversy for “teaching creationism alongside evolution,” reports CNN, as well as refusing to remove his Bible from his classroom desk, both actions for which he was reprimanded. An independent report, a PDF of which is hosted on the Columbus Dispatch website, also includes the claim that Freshwater told his students, “[S]cience is wrong because the Bible states that homosexuality is a sin and so anyone who is gay chooses to be gay and is therefore a sinner.”

Interestingly, although this story just broke on major media outlets late last week, the burning incident occurred in December of last year as was originally reported in April. The aforementioned independent report gives the following details on the electrostatic burn incident:

Mr. Freshwater said that he uses a telsa coil as part of a lab experiment where he charges gasses. He puts the elements in test tubes in a row, and then charges them with the device, and the students identify the elements by the color of the gasses. He said that the device is high voltage, but low current.
He said that he uses the device about twice a year and has done so for 21 years. At the end of the experiment the kids are excited and ask if they can touch it. He said that he demonstrates it on his own arm by making an “X” and then lets them touch it voluntarily. He said that the incident in question occurred in December 2007. He remembers getting from 3 to 8 volunteers, but couldn’t remember the order or all of the names.
He said that the device is owned by the school, he received verbal instructions on using it 21 years ago, and has never seen any written instructions. He said that he has not had a complaint in 21 years regarding his use of the device. The device leaves a red mark after one or two seconds of touching, but no blisters. He denied any religious discussions during this or any previous occurrences. He said that he would never hurt a student.

The report said that one investigator also used the device on his arm, with the result that “the device left a slight redness with no burns and the redness disappeared overnight” and that, while Freshwater’s use of the device was inappropriate, they did not believe that he intentionally harmed the student. While some of Freshwater’s actions are indeed questionable, it appears this may be largely a game of character assassination or “guilt by association” for other creationists, with some other news sources saying little or nothing about the details of the incident itself or what Freshwater has explained of the incident. Instead, they merely report the sensational news that a creationist teacher has burned a student. Note the top bullet point, even, on this article under Story Highlights: “Ohio teacher accused of branding cross on student's arm, teaching creationism.”

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