Intelligent Design proponent who works at JPL says he experienced religious discrimination

Emma Gallegos
sgvtribune.com
April 18, 2010
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An employee at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory says his supervisors harassed and demoted him after he shared DVDs promoting his views on evolution, according to a complaint filed with the Los Angeles Superior Court.

David Coppedge is an IT employee who has worked on JPL's Cassini mission since 1997, but he is also a Christian who edits a blog titled "Creation-Evolution Headlines." The blog promotes the theory of intelligent design - the idea that an intelligent being - not evolution or random processes - is responsible for creating life and the universe.

"I think it's unfortunate that JPL, which is interested in exploring the origins of the universe would be hostile to the argument of intelligent design," said Coppedge's attorney William Becker, Jr.. "If anything, JPL is the premier space exploration resource in the world, it ought to have an openness to this theory."

JPL declined to comment on the case, because officials had not received a copy of the complaint early Friday afternoon, spokeswoman Veronica McGregor said.

After Coppedge discussed intelligent design with JPL scientists, his supervisors told him not to stop discussing religion. Last April Coppedge's bosses demoted him. Coppedge had been a leader on the system administrator team for the Cassini mission, according to the suit.

The complaint states that Coppedge is the victim of religious discrimination and retaliation under California's Fair Employment and Housing Act.

But a case like his probably won't have a shot in court, because courts have viewed intelligent design as a religious belief, rather than a scientific theory, according to Gary Williams, a professor at Loyola Law School.
Certain kinds of religious activity are protected if they are not intrusive - such as wearing certain religious garb - but speech during work hours is not included, he said.

So even if intelligent design is viewed as a religious belief, employers have the right to restrict what their employees discuss in a work context, Williams said.

"If an employee is talking about anything in the workplace that is not related to work, the employer is entitled to say that `I don't want you to do this,"' Williams said. "You're not protected."

Coppedge claims he stopped talking about intelligent design with his coworkers in March 2009. He received a written warning and was demoted in April 2009.

Earlier this month Coppedge claims he met with his supervisors, who told him that the written warning was inappropriate and it would be removed from his file. The suit calls this is "an admission of liability."

This is not the first suit that Becker has taken up to defend proponents of intelligent design.

Last year, one of Becker's clients the American Freedom Alliance sued the California Science Center in Los Angeles after the center canceled a showing of "Darwin's Dilemma: The Mystery of the Cambrian Fossil Record." The suit alleged the act was a violation of First Amendment protections for free speech, Becker said.

Coppedge sits on the board of directors of Illustra Media, the group that publishes the DVDs that he distributed to JPL employees, including "Unlocking the Mystery of Life" and "The Privileged Planet," according to Becker.