Scott Pilutik

I am an attorney and consultant living and working in Manhattan, focusing primarily on church/state constitutional law. I'm a recognized expert on the Church of Scientology organization. I also have strong interests in intellectual property law where it intersects with emerging media, and free speech.

I support the efforts of the Americans United for Separation of Church and State, the Freedom From Religion Foundation, the National Lawyers Guild, the ACLU, Creative Commons, and the Electronic Frontier Foundation. I am a member of the New York County Lawyers Association and the New York State Bar Association. I also enjoy (watching) hockey and (doing) photograhy.

Online I can be found on Facebook, Twitter. My resume can be viewed here. I can be reached by phone at 212.645.6241 or by e-mail at pilutik[at]gmail.com.

The Cock Crows for John Freshwater

A fairly disturbing church/state issue has been fermenting in a Columbus Ohio grade school, where a popular eighth-grade science teacher John Freshwater has been systematically injecting his religious views and discarding the science curriculum he was hired by the state to teach. Story here. This much isn’t especially odd, as it probably goes on everywhere to some extent–we only find out when a high-schooler speaks up, and given the powerful disincentives to self-select as a teen minority amongst your peers, unreported violations of this sort are practically a given.

What makes Freshwater interesting is his annual tesla coil demonstration, where he would burn crosses into the arms of his students. From the just issued independent report investigating the complaints against Freshwater:

While there did not appear to be any intent by Mr. Freshwater to cause injury to any student, he was not using the device for its intended purpose. Contrary to Mr. Freshwater’s statement he simply made an “X” not a “cross,” all of the students described the marking as a “cross” and the pictures provided depict a “cross”.

There are multiple outrages here, which I’ll tackle one at a time. First, just like in the Dover Intelligent Design trial,* why do Christians so often, when confronted by rather blatant evidence that they’ve violated the establishment clause, lie about it. Besides the fact that Freshwater’s lie is insulting (see above photos), it’s amusing that the lie ironically mimics Peter’s denial of Jesus. It’s not a cross? Is that your final answer or do you want to wait for the cock to crow thrice?

More disturbing, however, is the perpetual silence of the school board, a silence that no doubt would have continued had the branding story not found national press, and thus transcend the garden variety religious intrusion into the public sphere. From the same report::

Dr. Weston [Director of Teaching and Learning for the Mount Vernon City Schools] stated that she has had to deal with internal and external complaints about his failure to follow the curriculum for much of her 11 years at Mount Vernon. It has come to her attention many times. She has reported these events to administrators and there have been some attempts to make changes and other instances where they seem to have been disregarded, particularly by one former assistant principal. She said that Mr. Freshwater cannot separate creationism/intelligent design from teaching to the science standards.

The school’s silence is all the more confounding in light of the fact that, whenever someone finally does blow the whistle, either the ACLU, or American United, or whomever, inevitably wins or forces a favorable settlement in these types of cases. While establishment clause jurisprudence may not be as clear as it could be, it’s pretty easy to spot the violations while they’re happening–Freshwater could’ve (and should’ve) been fired for any one of a few dozen violations committed during his tenure. This all inevitably leads to the conclusion that the school administrators and school boards are either entirely ignorant, or are getting bad advice, perhaps from lawyers who share the violator’s agenda, such as the Thomas More Center, in the case of Dover.

Of special interest too is this blog, which defends (through bombastic rhetoric and equivocation) Freshwater’s conduct, and which includes pictures and other news items.

* From Judge Jones’ opinion: “Witnesses either testified inconsistently, or lied outright under oath on several occasions. The inescapable truth is that both [Alan] Bonsell and [William] Buckingham lied at their January 3, 2005 depositions. … Bonsell repeatedly failed to testify in a truthful manner. … Defendants have unceasingly attempted in vain to distance themselves from their own actions and statements, which culminated in repetitious, untruthful testimony.”

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