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Creationism Makes Its Mark
religion dispatches ^ | January 6, 2008 | Lauri Lebo

Posted on 01/07/2009 6:00:18 PM PST by Inappropriate Laughter

When their son Zachary came home from science class with a cross burned on his forearm It was not the religion that bothered his parents, but the injury to their child. They sued, and brought science v. creationism back into the courts for another round.

Teacher John Freshwater and the brand on the arm of his student

It was a little over three years ago, on December 20, 2005, that Judge John E. Jones III issued his ruling in Kitzmiller v. Dover that intelligent design was not science, but merely repackaged creationism—and that it had no business in biology class.

The hoopla was immediate and enduring. Jones’ decision launched headlines across the globe, not to mention celebrations by the trial’s plaintiffs, their legal team and science experts (who send “Merry Kitzmas” greetings to each other on the anniversary).

For many, the Dover case became a cautionary tale of what can happen when a public school board believes its attempts to insert religion into the classroom can stand up to national attention and legal scrutiny.

But it would be a mistake to think that public school educators of fundamentalist faiths have made peace with science. Attacks on evolutionary education continue to take place out of the national spotlight, in small towns where people are reluctant to challenge the behavior of those clinging to power, and where teachers use their classrooms to proselytize to students away from the disapproving eyes of church-and-state watchdogs. They continue to preach intelligent design, the concept that life’s complexity demands a divine hand, and out-and-out Young Earth Creationism.

X Marks the Spot

Nowhere right now is this more apparent than in the small town of Gambier, Ohio, a place that bears a striking resemblance to the fictional town of Frank Capra’s Bedford Falls.

Here, in late September, just off a wide-spaced street that leads to the green campus of the liberal arts school of Kenyon College, a small-framed woman in dark sunglasses takes a seat at the local restaurant.

She is trying to pass unnoticed. Nervously, she nods to the owner of the establishment. Because she doesn’t know who is on her side and who’s not, Jenifer Dennis keeps her head down.

Only weeks later, Dennis would be forced to out herself publicly. But for now, she is trying to remain anonymous in order to protect her son Zachary from the inevitable recriminations from some who reside in the Mount Vernon School District in conservative south-central Ohio.

Last December she and her husband Steve accused a popular 8th-grade science teacher, John Freshwater, of using an electrostatic device known as a Tesla coil to brand a cross into Zachary’s arm [see image above]. They say the burn, which in photos show an 8-by-4-inch mark on his forearm, raised blisters, kept their son awake that night, and lasted for several weeks.

At first glance, they saw the mark as a religious emblem. But their first concern was less about religion and more about what they considered to be a case of a teacher injuring their son.

Their accusations and their resulting lawsuit against the district have brought them criticism. A sign posted in a yard near their house read, “The student goes. We Support Mr. Freshwater. The Bible stays!”

For all the unusual elements to this story, this part is the strangest. At first, Jenifer and Steve were timid about pursuing legal action against the school district, fearing that they would be perceived as anti-Christian.

They’re not.

“We are religious people,” they said in a statement after they filed suit in June. “But we were offended when Mr. Freshwater burned a cross onto the arm of our child. This was done in science class in December 2007, where an electric shock machine was used to burn our child.”

Changing Stories: An X or a Cross?

The day after the incident, Jenifer and Steve met with the district Superintendent Stephen Short and showed him a photo of her son’s burn. Jenifer recalls that she was told that Freshwater’s use of the device was unacceptable and the district would investigate.

What took place over the next several months is not exactly clear. As is typical in these types of stories, there is much disagreement over who is on the side of truth. But some details have emerged.

The district hired an independent investigator. After a lengthy investigation in which Freshwater, other teachers, students, and administrators were all interviewed, the consultant concluded in a report that Freshwater had been teaching students that evolution is a lie for at least 11 years.

The report also said that Freshwater had witnessed to students, at one point telling them that there couldn’t possibly be a genetic link to homosexuality because the Bible says it is a sin. The report also said that he handed out Bibles to members of the Fellowship of Christian Athletes and led them in prayers during school hours. Also, Freshwater said he had given a voluntary extra-credit assignment to students who watched Expelled, a documentary that argues teachers who believe in intelligent design are facing discrimination.

According to the report, Freshwater at first denied the incident. Later he admitted to the experiment, admitting he marked Zachary with an X. However, students interviewed for the investigation all described it as a cross.

The link to the full report is here.

In response to the investigation, Freshwater was told to remove all religious items from his room, including a poster of the Ten Commandments hanging on the wall, stickers with scripture on them, extra Bibles he kept in the back of the classroom, and the Bible that he kept on his desk.

In April, Freshwater, fearing disciplinary action, took his side of the story public. He never mentioned the branding incident. Rather he said it was because of the Bible on his desk.

Because he had refused to remove it, citing religious freedom under the First Amendment, he said he was being persecuted. Students organized a rally for him, bringing their Bibles to school in support. A Web site devoted to Freshwater’s cause is called

But Dennis said the issue was never about the Bible on the desk. And nowhere in the lawsuit’s initial complaint is it even mentioned.

Rather, she says, it’s because her son was branded.

After Freshwater took his side public, Jenifer said she and her husband were worried Freshwater wouldn’t face disciplinary action. In June, they filed a lawsuit against Freshwater and the district for violating the First Amendment’s Establishment Clause by permitting religion to be taught in class, and for failing to protect their son. Federal law allows such civil liberties cases to be filed anonymously. Freshwater has filed a countersuit, citing defamation of character.

In July, the school board suspended Freshwater without pay based on the investigatory report, saying he had misused the electrical device, taught religion in his science class, and failed to follow district curriculum and rules.

Both sides are now awaiting the outcome of administrative hearing to determine whether he should be permanently fired. The hearings took place this fall and have been continued until January 6.

For now, while he waits for the outcome of the hearings, Freshwater is selling Christmas trees. Last week, he said he believes the district is retaliating against him because he advocated for “critical analysis” of evolution in 2003.

“They’ve marked me as a religious—I don’t know if I want to use this phrase about myself—but as a religious fanatic,” Freshwater said.

Freshwater is careful to say he doesn’t object to all elements of evolutionary theory, but would simply like to raise some questions about it. He said that in the 21 years he has been a teacher, he has been using the Tesla coil on students, even though manufacturer instructions warn that it is not to be used on human skin. He said he has never had one complaint until now.

Freshwater said that there is no way to tell whether the photo presented by the Dennis family that shows the mark of a cross on a forearm was doctored, or whether it was even Zachary’s arm.

When asked if he was accusing the family of lying, Freshwater said, “Don’t put words in my mouth.”

While he admits using the device on Zachary, he said he didn’t know if it left a mark.

Not Always a Rural Issue

Despite the gruesome elements, the story is less unusual than at first appears.

According to a poll published this spring in the Public Library of Science Biology, one in eight US high school teachers presents creationism as a valid alternative to evolution.

The poll, conducted by Michael Berkman, a political scientist at Pennsylvania State University in University Park, and his colleagues, also learned that 16 percent of teachers believe in creationism.

While Berkman’s research did not address why so many teachers are creationists, he speculated in an e-mail that biology appeals to even fundamentalist Christians:

In Darwin’s day, most biologists felt that they had a calling to describe God’s works. So people of all faith traditions may be drawn to biology, including those whose faith includes a literal interpretation of Genesis. Clearly, a substantial percentage of them are unwilling to accept the geological, chemical, and genetic evidence for an old earth.

Jason Wiles, a Syracuse University biology professor whose research focuses on teaching issues related to biological evolution, said he frequently runs into creationists training to be educators.

“It’s not only in the South, or in rural areas,” Wiles said.

Wiles recently held a workshop for 30 science teachers in the Syracuse city school system. Three of the teachers were actively interested in promoting intelligent design.

He suspects that the reason that so few cases make it to the public stage is that many parents aren’t always aware of what’s going on in the classroom. Also, children are often unaware that the teacher has crossed a Constitutional line.

“A lot of times students just don’t know what their rights are,” Wiles said.

Resolution Far Off

On that day in September, Jenifer Dennis had come to Gambier to meet one of the plaintiffs in the Dover case. I was giving a speech at Kenyon College that night about Dover’s battle. Cyndi Sneath, one of the parents from Dover, had ridden out with me from Harrisburg.

As they sat down at the table, Sneath and Dennis began to compare notes, sharing common experiences. Dennis plopped a large file on the table that details the case and starts flipping through pages. She asked Sneath if she had initially realized how demanding and time-consuming being a plaintiff in a First Amendment case would be. Sneath told her she honestly had no idea what to expect.

At first, Jenifer Dennis said she couldn’t tell if she was overreacting to her son’s arm. “I was thinking maybe I’m crazy,” she said. “I was thinking maybe it’s something they do? And it’s OK?”

Dennis and her husband are both Catholic. They are NASCAR fans who camp in an RV at races. Yet, they are being labeled as elitist and intolerant of religion. At one school board meeting in July, numerous parents and teachers spoke in defense of Freshwater and criticized the parents. One parent told the board, “As a Christian, I don’t accept the separation of church and state.”

During the district’s administrative hearing process, Freshwater successfully argued that Zachary’s name be released publicly. So the anonymous status in the family’s lawsuit has now become a moot point, and the recriminations that the family feared have begun with calls and letters.

But Dennis said she has also had friends and strangers come up to her and say that they’re glad they came forward. She said Zachary, who turned fifteen on Dec. 17, is handling the pressure.

But unlike in the Kitzmiller case, in which Sneath and 10 other parents sued the Dover school district, Jenifer Dennis still feels alone in her fight.

She is looking forward to a resolution in the case. When she started this battle a year ago, she never envisioned it would still be going on through another Christmas. “I just need some closure,” she said. But her lawsuit will no doubt drag on for much longer. The trial date is not until May 2010.

Tags: creationism, darwin, evolution, intelligent design

Lauri Lebo has been a journalist for twenty years. As part of an investigative reporting team, she helped solve two civil rights-era murders. As the York Daily Record’s education reporter, she covered intelligent design’s First Amendment battle. The winner of numerous state and national awards, she lives in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania.

TOPICS: Culture/Society; US: Ohio
KEYWORDS: creationism; education; evolution
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To: labette
"....These things I have spoken unto you, that in me ye might have peace. In the world ye shall have tribulation; but be of good cheer; I have overcome the world." - Jesus





Of those who love you as the Lord of Love,
Ever present in all, and those who seek you
As the nameless, formless Reality,
Which way is sure and swift, love or knowledge?


For those who set their hearts on me
And worship me with unfailing devotion and faith,
The way of love leads sure and swift to me.

Those who seek the transcendental Reality,
Unmanifested, without name or form,
Beyond the reach of feeling and of thought,
With their senses subdued and mind serene
And striving for the good of all beings,
They too will verily come unto me.

Yet hazardous
And slow is the path to the Unrevealed,
Difficult for physical man to tread.
But they for whom I am the goal supreme,
Who do all work renouncing self for me
And meditate on me with single-hearted devotion,
These will I swiftly rescue
From the fragment's cycle of birth and death
To fullness of eternal life in me.

Still your mind in me, still yourself in me,
And without doubt you shall be united with me,
Lord of Love, dwelling in your heart.
But if you cannot still your mind in me,
Learn to do so through the practice of meditation.
If you lack the will for such self-discipline,

Engage yourself in selfless service of all around you,
For selfless service can lead you at last to me.
If you are unable to do even this,
Surrender yourself to me in love,
Receiving success and failure with equal calmness
As granted by me.

Better indeed is knowledge than mechanical practice.
Better than knowledge is meditation.
But better still is surrender in love,
Because there follows immediate peace.

That one I love who is incapable of ill will,
And returns love for hatred.
Living beyond the reach of I and mine
And of pleasure and pain,
full of mercy,
Contented, self-controlled, firm in faith,
With all their heart and all their mind given to me –
With such people I am in love.

Not agitating the world or by it agitated,
They stand above the sway of elation,
Competition, and fear, accepting life
Good and bad as it comes. They are pure,
Efficient, detached, ready to meet every demand
I make on them as a humble instrument of my work.

They are dear to me who run not after the pleasant
Or away from the painful, grieve not
Over the past, lust not today,
But let things come and go as they happen.

Who serve both friend and foe with equal love,
Not buoyed up by praise or cast down by blame,
Alike in heat and cold, pleasure and pain,
Free from selfish attachments and self-will,
Ever full, in harmony everywhere,
Firm in faith – such as these are dear to me.

But dearest to me are those who seek me
In faith and love as life's eternal goal.
They go beyond death to immortality.




Those who are free from selfish attachments,
Who have mastered the senses and passions,
Act not, but are acted through by the Lord.
Listen to me now, O son of Kunti,
How one who has become an instrument
In the hands of the Lord attains the Absolute,
The supreme consummation of wisdom.

Unerring in discrimination,
Sovereign of the senses and passions,
Free from the clamor of likes and dislikes,
They lead a simple, self–reliant life
Based on meditation, using speech,
Body, and mind to serve the Lord of Love.

Free from self–will, aggressiveness, arrogance,
From the lust to possess people or things,
They are at peace with themselves and others
And enter into the unitive state.

United with the Lord, ever joyful,
Beyond the reach of self–will and sorrow,
They serve me in every living creature
And attain supreme devotion to me.
By loving me they share in my glory
And enter into my boundless being.

All their acts are performed in my service,
And through my grace they win eternal life.

Make every act an offering to me;
Regard me as your only protector.
Make every thought an offering to me;
Meditate on me always.

Drawing upon your deepest resources,
You shall overcome all difficulties
Through my grace. But if you will not heed me
In your self–will, nothing will avail you.

If you say, “I will not fight this battle,”
Your own nature will drive you into it.
If you will not fight the battle of life,
Your own karma will drive you into it.

The Lord dwells in the hearts of all creatures,
And he whirls them round on the wheel of time.
Run to him for refuge with all your strength
And peace profound will be yours through his grace.

I give you these precious words of wisdom;
Reflect on them and then choose what is best.
These are the last words I shall speak to you,
Dear one, for your spiritual fulfillment.

Be aware of me always, adore me,
Make every act an offering to me,
And you shall come to me;
This I promise, for you are dear to me.
Leave all other support, and look to me
For protection. I shall purify you
From the sins of the past. Do not grieve.

Do not share this wisdom with anyone
Who lacks in devotion or self–control,
Lacks the desire to learn, or who scoffs at me.

Those who teach this supreme mystery
Of the Gita to all those who love me
Will come to me without doubt. No one
Can render me more devoted service;
No one on earth can be more dear to me.

Those who meditate on these holy words
Worship me with wisdom and devotion.
Even those who listen to them with faith,
Free from doubts, will find a happier world.

Have you fully understood my message?
Are you free from your doubts and delusions?


You have dispelled my doubts and delusions
And made me ready to fight this battle.
My faith is firm now, and I will do your will.





I am the same to all beings. My love
Is the same always. Nevertheless, those
Who meditate on me with devotion,
They dwell in me, and I shine forth in them.

Even the worst sinner becomes a saint
When he loves me with all his heart. This love
Will soon transform his personality
And fill his heart with peace profound.
O son of Kunti, this is my promise:
Those who love me, they shall never perish.

- Excerpts from the Bhagavad-Gita.


My point?


Practically all advanced civilizations on this planet have had the same lines of reasoning on coping with the real world, as that quote from the Bible.

181 posted on 01/09/2009 9:53:55 AM PST by MyTwoCopperCoins
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To: hosepipe
Lucky for us all Jesus came to make all religion on this planet obsolete..

Unluckily for all of us, a number of competing profits started up with different slogans and different brand names.

Which is why, barring some empirical test for religious truth, it's all about where and when you are born. And into which tribe.

Using your mind to learn how things work, or just trying to be a good person, count for nothing.

182 posted on 01/09/2009 9:55:02 AM PST by js1138
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To: MyTwoCopperCoins
Here's the creationist view of the 2nd Law:

Evolution says that we started out simple, and over time became more complex. That just isn't possible: UNLESS there is a giant outside source of energy supplying the Earth with huge amounts of energy. If there were such a source, scientists would certainly know about it.

183 posted on 01/09/2009 9:58:13 AM PST by js1138
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To: hosepipe
If humans are all about flesh you could be correct.. but if humans are all about the spirit you could be quite wrong.. Some believe that the flesh is just a "space suit" for the human spirit.. Even if the flesh don't work too good.. the spirit may be fully operable and intact...

One slight problem:

If someone took a human zygote, and artificially cleaved it into two, and implanted both back into a woman's womb, resulting in the birth of a pair of identical twins, through artificial intervention, does it mean that the human intervention led to one soul turning into two? Does that imply that man directly played God, and was the causal effect that led to the formation of the second soul?

Perhaps what we call spirit or soul, is just the conscious awareness that does not last beyond death- like deep sleep or coma- no awareness of time or space, forever. A thousand years wouldn't seem longer than a fraction of a second.

184 posted on 01/09/2009 10:06:11 AM PST by MyTwoCopperCoins
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To: js1138

Ahhh, someone has been reading “Fundies Say the Darndest Things” haven’t you? I recognize that ridiculously ignorant statement anywhere. Hah!

185 posted on 01/09/2009 10:14:36 AM PST by Pawtucket Patriot
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To: metmom

“For me, I see that sort of thing as a a good justification for the use of the abuse button.”

Juvenile arrogance is not uncommon amongst educated non-believers.

But I do find it somewhat uniquely comical that one would choose to display the horrid results of mutation in an attempt to convince others that the gods of Time and Chance routinely use it to produce an increasingly intricate and advanced biologic unit.

And to show such ignorance of God’s word by assuming that somewhere in it we are promised a perfect life is telling. It is understandable that biologists defend their work and even their believed (though unproven) theories on how meaningless and lifeless matter became us.

But criticism of opposing opinion is not made more valid by displaying a severe misunderstanding of it. That goes for ToE believers as well as the rest of us.

186 posted on 01/09/2009 10:18:08 AM PST by BuddhaBrown (Path to enlightenment: Four right turns, then go straight until you see the Light!)
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To: Pawtucket Patriot

Are you familiar with Poe’s law?

187 posted on 01/09/2009 10:24:04 AM PST by js1138
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To: MyTwoCopperCoins

God knew you were going to do that and created two souls in anticipation of your actions.

188 posted on 01/09/2009 10:29:25 AM PST by js1138
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To: js1138
God knew you were going to do that and created two souls in anticipation of your actions.

So God knows our actions, and yet we're supposed to have free will, and will also be judged for our actions. I'm so confused!

189 posted on 01/09/2009 10:31:46 AM PST by MyTwoCopperCoins
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To: MyTwoCopperCoins

God knows you are confused You were created that way. Don’t feel bad. Every creative process involves editing and quality control. Enjoy the cutting room floor.

190 posted on 01/09/2009 10:51:40 AM PST by js1138
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To: js1138

God made me write that,.... or was it the Devil? Oh depends on how you interpret that, if you thought I was being good then God did it, and if you took offense, then the Devil most definitely.

191 posted on 01/09/2009 11:06:04 AM PST by Pawtucket Patriot
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To: metmom
Reality? What reality? The *reality* that someone decides they see in the lab? In case you haven't heard, "truth" is a word best avoided in science.

What about the thought that if science and Scripture conflict that it's the human interpretation of the SCIENCE that needs to be re-examined?

Or has it never occurred to you that science could be wrong about something?

I'm talking about physical reality, thing we see and touch, not wording in a multiply translated, multimillenia old stories. Wording is far, far more subjective. Even a literal interpretation is soft compared to observed facts. No mention of 'truth' here. It is your understanding of what science is and your desire to make reality fit your preconceived superstitions that's at fault. Most grownups don't do that anymore.

192 posted on 01/09/2009 11:09:31 AM PST by doc30 (Democrats are to morals what an Etch-A-Sketch is to Art.)
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To: js1138; betty boop
[ Which is why, barring some empirical test for religious truth, it's all about where and when you are born. And into which tribe. ]

Religious truth is partial.. religions are selective..
Science is religious and has its own shamans.. and cargo..

It is possible humans cannot retain all of reality..
Forcing Cargo Cultism.. and shamanism..

The observer problem is very persistent..

193 posted on 01/09/2009 11:14:59 AM PST by hosepipe (This propaganda has been edited to include some fully orbed hyperbole....)
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To: doc30

Make that most grownups who contribute to society by building and inventing things, or by finding out how things work, so inventors and engineers can build things.

It doesn’t take much intelligence to follow a recipe, even in a medical lab.

194 posted on 01/09/2009 11:16:45 AM PST by js1138
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To: MyTwoCopperCoins

Twins are not identical.. their iris’s and finger prints are unique.. for one thing.. Could be they wholly unique.. in a plethora of other ways.. especially spiritual..

195 posted on 01/09/2009 11:18:39 AM PST by hosepipe (This propaganda has been edited to include some fully orbed hyperbole....)
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To: hosepipe
The observer problem is very persistent..

And yet things get invented and built using the findings of science. Things like medicine, anesthesia, satellites, computers, cool digital watches, iPods.

Not all these things will be beneficial to society, and some may be harmful, but science is about what works.

I think religion would better serve itself and the world by addressing what should and should not be done with the findings of science.

Reality itself will take care of weeding out findings that are in error.

196 posted on 01/09/2009 11:22:26 AM PST by js1138
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To: doc30
[ It is your understanding of what science is and your desire to make reality fit your preconceived superstitions that's at fault. ]

Is disproved old scientific FACT?....... Superstition?..
Does scientific fact have a life span?..

197 posted on 01/09/2009 11:23:37 AM PST by hosepipe (This propaganda has been edited to include some fully orbed hyperbole....)
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To: js1138; betty boop
[ Reality itself will take care of weeding out findings that are in error. ]

So you do believe in the ten commandments?..

198 posted on 01/09/2009 11:26:36 AM PST by hosepipe (This propaganda has been edited to include some fully orbed hyperbole....)
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To: MyTwoCopperCoins

If something is overriding the 2nd law to decrease entropy in living systems, please tell me what that is.

Simply poring energy at something isn’t enough. In order for entropy to decrease, work needs to be done in and on the system. What is the source of work?

199 posted on 01/09/2009 11:27:01 AM PST by metmom (Welfare was never meant to be a career choice.)
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To: hosepipe
Twins are not identical.. their iris’s and finger prints are unique.. for one thing.. Could be they wholly unique.. in a plethora of other ways.. especially spiritual..

You got derailed by my usage of the term 'identical'. What I was conveying was that one potential individual ended up being two. Whether the resultant individuals are identical or not is immaterial to the outcome considering the multiplication of the "souls".

200 posted on 01/09/2009 11:29:15 AM PST by MyTwoCopperCoins
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