How NASA punishes pro-intelligent design employees

Story here from Evolution News. (H/T ECM)


David Coppedge has worked on the Cassini mission since 1997. In 2000 he earned recognition for excellence, receiving the important role of “Team Lead SA” (system administrator), a role he held until his demotion in 2009.

SAs oversee 200 Unix workstations, several high-capacity date storage units, networking equipment, and other specialized computing equipment across America and Europe. He has a wide breadth of knowledge about technical aspects of Cassini’s computers and networks and was heavily involved in all the mission operations. Coppedge has been a faithful and highly regarded JPL employee for many years, has led tours of the lab and has served as an outreach speaker presenting the Cassini findings to civic and astronomy clubs and school groups.

Now, though, this exemplary employee has been demoted. Why? Did he do something to jeopardize the mission? No. Was he guilty of incompetence? No. Was he lazy or just lackadaisical in his work? No. David Coppedge’s sin was a thought crime, the mere willingness to challenge the ruling authority of Darwinian evolution. In conversation he asked colleagues if they’d be interested in watching a documentary that dealt with evolution and intelligent design. For this he was harassed and discriminated against.

[…]In a blatant double-standard, JPL has restricted Coppedge from freely discussing his intelligent design views while at the same time allowing other employees to express themselves freely on a wide variety of topics in the workplace, including attacks on the intelligent design viewpoint.

Coppedge was punished for expressing support for intelligent design despite the fact that he never forced those views on anyone. When someone was not interested in watching one of his intelligent design videos, he dropped the matter.

Until Coppedge’s supervisor began harassing him, Coppedge never saw an indication that anyone resented his discussing intelligent design. In fact, Coppedge’s administrators eventually admitted that they had never received a single complaint about his sharing DVDs prior to targeting him for investigation.

You can read more about it in these related stories.

Don’t forget that NASA is the agency that investigates religious nonsense like global warming and aliens.

12 thoughts on “How NASA punishes pro-intelligent design employees”

  1. I have a question. So far I feel like there is good evidence for God’s existence. However, when I was young I felt there was good existence for the existence of Santa Claus, but everything I thought he did turned out to have a non-Santa explanation. So how do we know that there isn’t non-supernatural accounts for fine-tuning, the resurrection, NDEs, etc?


    1. Ha ha ha. You need to get hold of some good debates on the existence of God with good atheists like Victor Stenger and Austin Dacey, and maybe a good agnostic like Paul Draper. Watch them in a debate. See if they have any responses to the evidential arguments for Christian theism. If you don’t hear any responses to our arguments, that should tell you something.


      1. But theoretically, and I know this sounds ridiculous, what if there are just answers to these problems that no one, including the atheists, have thought of yet?


  2. Is Intelligent Design a religious belief? And, on a related note, may an employer discriminate against an employee for what the employee deems to be religious? Isn’t that opening Pandora’s box, since an employee could claim anything as “religious”—thus preventing an employer from ever taking any action against an employee?


  3. Dagood:
    answer to your first question: no.

    It is only “religious” in the sense that Darwinian evolution is “religious”: both theses overlap w. religion and have metaphysical consequences (example: if Darwinian evolution is true, there’s “nothing left for God to do.” That certainly affects any monothestic religion that holds that a God created the world.). Strictly speaking, though, ID stems from the scientific evidence, not any religious book.


  4. If Intelligent Design is NOT a religious belief, can David Coppedge sue for religious discrimination for being demoted when distributing material on it?

    The reason I ask is that many who support ID appear to talk about both sides of their mouth. When it comes to teaching it in public schools, they claim it is not religious, but if someone is fired or demoted for promoting it in the workplace, they sue for religious discrimination.

    I wish they would pick one path or the other.


  5. From the article:
    “Intelligent design is not religion, and nothing in the DVDs that Coppedge shared deals with religion,” noted Luskin. “Even so, it’s unlawful for an employer to discriminate against an employee based on what they *deem* is religion.”

    -key term above. Coppedge does not think ID is religious, but those who shut him down do…hence the term “religious discrimination” in the lawsuit, as well as other terms (free speech, etc, etc).


  6. Rich Bordner,

    I read the article. Notice in my first comment I directly used the same term—“deem”—(not my usual language) as religious.

    Interesting question—who is “deeming” ID is religious? The sentence (we both read) Luskin uses is; “Even so, it’s unlawful for an employer to discriminate against an employee based on what they deem is religion.“ What does the “they” refer to in that sentence: the Employer or the Employee? I read it as referring to the employer; it would appear you read it to refer to the employee.

    Here’s the problem with your reading—it is the employee who is suing for religious discrimination. NOT the employer. Therefore, regardless who the “they” is in that sentence, the employee is (at the least) tacitly agreeing it is a religious belief, otherwise he could not sue for religious discrimination. Or he is explicitly stating it by suing for religious discrimination.

    Take this out of the ID realm for a moment. Imagine I had an employee who started putting up anti-Semitic posters. I indicate that is not appropriate and chastise them in some way. They sue me because they claim I have discriminated against a religious belief.

    Under that situation who is determining whether I just discriminated them under a religious belief? It would appear for the employee to sue me for violating their civil rights for discriminating against their religious belief; one of the absolute necessary elements of their claim is that their anti-Semitic belief is part of their religion. Right?

    Whether I (the employer) thought it was a religion or they (the employee) thought was a religion is actually not necessary to the claim—what IS necessary is establishing the anti-Semitic belief was part of a religion.

    In other words, regardless whether JPL or Coppedge believes ID is a religion, to sue for religious discrimination, one would first have to establish ID is a religion.



  7. DaGood,
    I was kinda confused by your original comment, since in this instance (as stated by the article), it is the employer, not the employee, who deems ID as religious.

    I was reading the quoted paragraph in the article as referring to the employer, not the employee, as you assumed. I think that’s pretty clear given the context. That is, JPL deemed ID as religious, not Coppedge.

    Coppedge is suing b.c his employer views ID as religious and hence won’t allow anything remotely smacking of what he thinks is religion to be discussed and considered. He “can’t allow that divine foot in the door,” so as commonly happens, ID has to be shoved off the playing field without considering the scientific merits, simply because of the metaphysical consequences of it (i.e, Naturalism is false, or at least the scientific evidence leads away from it)–at least that’s the way I think it would go based on the one article I read. Could be otherwise–I just don’t have the info past this article to make that judgment.

    As to your scenario, it would only be analagous if you, the employer, did in fact tell him to put the signs away for religious reasons. If religion didn’t play any part in your reasoning (as it looks like it did with JPL–again, just taking the article at face value…whether JPL actually did make the decision to chastize Coppedge for religious reasons–I don’t know…haven’t read enough to be confident on that), your employee’s suit wouldn’t work….probably wouldn’t work even if you factored religion into your decision (not all religious speech/action is protected), but you get my point.

    Back to the issue at hand…I admit I have a similar “pandora’s box” question. Here’s how I put it: this case seems like it fits clearly under the rubric of “free speech” infringement, but less so under the “religious discrimination” rubric. So why include that in the list of wrongs? Thinking charitably, perhaps Coppedge is suing for religious discrimination b.c his employer is making it out to be a religious issue in the first place. That is, those who are against ID have this nasty habit of labeling things they don’t like as “religion,” which to them is a perjorative term meant to silence opposing views. The reasoning, even if unstated, goes: “we deal with reality here. We can’t have any of this religious wishful thinking mess up the work environment. Keep your religion to yourself; don’t think it has anything to do with reality.”

    If I am having a discussion with my fellow colleagues about issue X, and my employer shuts down that discussion b.c a) he labels it as a religious issue (and religion is bad), and/or b) I’m a member of a certain religion which he doesn’t like so he tries to paint my discussions as stemming from that religion–that’s religious discrimination.

    At least that’s the most charitable interpretation I can think of regarding the quote in question. Was that the actual motivation/reasoning of his employer? I reiterate: I can’t say based on one article giving the viewpoint of one side of this issue–I’ll give you that.


  8. Rich Bordner,

    I’ve done a bit more research (even downloaded the filed Complaint) and in short your reading is correct; I was wrong. Coppedge is claiming ID is not religious, but that JPL (the employer) asserts it is. Of course, what with lawyers being involved, it is far more complex than that. Technically, the Plaintiff (Coppedge) is claiming the Defendant (JPL) claimed the Plaintiff (Coppedge) was pushing religion.

    See, Coppedge was promoting ID, which is part of his Christianity. Assume, for a second (we don’t know yet, because we don’t have the facts from the other side) that all he did was promote Intelligent Design without once mentioning Christ or even God for that matter. The employer perceives that as pushing a religion. Is it or is it not? (Take Dover out of the equation as well.)

    All one would have to do is ask Coppedge (under oath), “Is the Intelligent Designer God?” If he answers, “No,” the clever lawyer would pull the blogs he has written, mentioning Jesus and at each one ask if he considers Jesus the Intelligent Designer. If he keeps saying, “No,” he would become not credible.

    If he says, “Yes,”—then pushing ID IS pushing his religion.

    I’ll try to explain what I mean. To demonstrate what the Plaintiff is attempting to prove, with this religious discrimination case, William Becker (Coppedge’s attorney) gave an analogy (paraphrased), “It would be like an employee who wore Muslim garb, and the employer discriminated against the employee for being a Muslim, when it turns out the employee was not Muslim at all.” In other words, the employer discriminates against a person for a religion the employer incorrectly assumes the employee is part of.

    Is that what we have here?

    Try another analogy. Imagine an employee that talked to other employees about not eating pork. They shouldn’t eat pork. Here’s a DVD on why pork is bad. Turns out this employee is Muslim. Were they pushing their religion? Not eating pork is part of Islam—not its entirety, of course.

    At what point does a person push the tenets of their belief, without explicitly stating their specific belief that it becomes pushing a religion? What happens if Coppedge stated at other times he “attended Church” and then mentioned ID—does that bring it within the realm of pushing a religion? What if he mentions he believes in God? Or is a Christian? And a month later mentions ID? Does that make it pushing a religion?

    These types of factual scenarios make lawyers rich. *knock on wood*

    The First Amendment claim is a non-starter (unless California law has some peculiarity I do not know.) JPL is not a state actor, despite being federal funded, and is within its ability to limit speech.


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