COLUMBUS, Ohio — An Ohio school teacher fired over accusations that he preached Christianity in class says in a $1 million lawsuit that his free-speech and civil rights were violated.
John Freshwater, an eighth-grade teacher, also says he was harassed because of his religion, was defamed and suffered a hostile work environment.
The Mount Vernon school board created a work situation that allowed Freshwater "to be harassed by both administrators and co-workers on account of his religion," according to the lawsuit against the board and school administrators filed June 9 in U.S. District Court in Columbus.
The school board fired Freshwater last year, citing an internal investigation that found he had preached his Christian beliefs in class, in violation of the traditional separation of church and state. Freshwater was also accused of using a scientific device to burn a cross image onto a student's arm and of keeping a Bible on his desk.
Freshwater says other teachers were permitted to keep Bibles on their desks. He is seeking $500,000 in lost wages, pension pay and lost-opportunity costs and $500,000 in punitive damages.
Freshwater also said he was discriminated against because of his involvement with the student group, Fellowship of Christian Athletes.
The lawsuit said an outside consultant's report that investigated Freshwater was incomplete and contained "scandalous allegations," which the lawsuit does not detail.
A message was left with school Superintendent Steve Sharp yesterday seeking comment.