Wednesday, April 23, 2008

The Mount Vernon Church-State Case Takes a Bizarre Turn

The controversy in Mount Vernon, Ohio over a public school teacher who refuses to remove a Bible from his desk is a close case.1 This is not (from the Dispatch):

    The Mount Vernon public-school science teacher who won't remove his personal Bible from the top of his desk also is accused of conducting a religious “healing session” during school and burning crosses onto students' arms.

    * * *

    An independent investigator will be hired to look into claims involving Freshwater, an eighth-grade teacher at Mount Vernon Middle School, the school board decided today. An administrator will monitor his classes until the probe ends.

    The “healing” allegedly occurred when Freshwater was a chaperone for a Christian student-athlete group that met during school hours. A guest speaker visiting the group in January had an illness, and Freshwater called for his healing.

    “He said out loud, ‘Satan be removed from this man,'” said Jessica Philemond, an attorney representing a Mount Vernon Middle School student who witnessed the event.

    The same boy also was among several students branded during a science class in which Freshwater asked for volunteers who wanted to see how an electrical device in his classroom worked.

    “He (the boy) didn't know it would be a cross and he didn't know it was going to hurt,” Philemond said.

Needless to say, these are just allegations and we are at the beginning of an investigation. If it pans out, hopefully the activists who screech about "persecution" of American Christians will move on to a more worthy martyr.

1Which is to say that it's close in terms of what result we civil libertarians would arrive at in balancing the teacher's free speech rights against Establishment Clause concerns. It might even be a close case to Justice Kennedy who has declared that the key question is whether government religious speech is coercive or not. Given that Kennedy's standard leads to some troubling results, it wouldn't be a bad thing if this close case was not an opportunity for Kennedy to make his view the standard.