Drive into Mt. Vernon, Ohio and it’s like a step back into history. The city, founded in 1805, is anchored by a city square straight out of an old post card or possibly a Norman Rockwell painting. There’s the requisite gazebo, statues and park benches. All of this belies a true American battle brewing that could shatter the idyllic setting of what has been called “Ohio’s most livable city.”
The battle is centered on a mild-mannered, self-effacing middle school science teacher and his Bible. John Freshwater has been a teacher in the Mt. Vernon public schools for over 20 years. Twice he has been designated as “Teacher of the Year” by the School Board—most recently just last year. That was then. A few months ago it seems that a student in one of his classes made accusations that Mr. Freshwater was being too Christian in his class. The extent of the allegations are not known as the School Board is not commenting—with the exception of an occasional “leak” to the press about how “serious” the matter is in light of the “separation of Church and State.” As a result, the School Board demanded that Mr. Freshwater remove a Bible that has been sitting on the corner of his desk for 21 years. You read that correctly, “sitting” on the corner of his desk. The teacher is not accused of reading it, proclaiming it, preaching from it. Nope—it just sits there. Evidently, that has offended at least one student, so the Bible has to go.
There’s just one problem: Mr. Freshwater and his convictions. At the request of the School Board, the teacher has removed a copy of the Ten Commandments from the wall of his classroom and some other “objectionable” materials that might have been somehow construed as “Christian”—but the Bible was the last straw. In direct defiance of his employer, Freshwater has refused to remove the Bible from the desk. He was offered a compromise—put it in a drawer when students were present and take it out when they left. No deal, the humble but courageous man has replied. He has drawn the proverbial line in the sand. The Bible stays and the controversy has exploded.