PASADENA, CA—Supervisors at NASA’s prestigious Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) illegally harassed and demoted a high-level computer system administrator for expressing support of intelligent design to co-workers, according to a discrimination lawsuit filed in California Superior Court.
The lawsuit (case number #BC435600) was filed by David Coppedge, an information technology specialist and system administrator on JPL’s Cassini mission to Saturn, the most ambitious interplanetary exploration ever launched. A division of the California Institute of Technology, JPL operates under a contract with NASA. Coppedge was a “Team Lead” Systems Administrator on the Cassini mission until JPL demoted him for allegedly “pushing religion” by loaning interested co-workers DVDs supportive of intelligent design.
“For the offense of offering videos to colleagues, Coppedge faced harassment, an investigation cloaked in secrecy, and a virtual gag order on his discussion of intelligent design,” said attorney Casey Luskin of Discovery Institute’s Center for Science and Culture. Luskin serves as a consultant to the Coppedge lawsuit. “Coppedge was punished even though supervisors admitted never receiving a single complaint regarding his conversations about intelligent design prior to their investigation, and even though other employees were allowed to express diverse ideological opinions, including attacking intelligent design.”
Coppedge is suing JPL and Caltech for religious discrimination, harassment and retaliation; violation of his free speech rights; and wrongful demotion. Coppedge is represented by Los Angeles First Amendment attorney William J. Becker, Jr., of The Becker Law Firm.
“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.”
The case is the latest in a string of free-speech controversies surrounding allegations of public and private institutions punishing scientists and other experts for holding controversial views on evolution.
The California Science Center is currently facing two lawsuits similarly alleging attempts to squelch free-speech rights by a group that contracted to screen a film on intelligent design for the public at the Los Angeles facility.
“Anyone who thinks that today’s culture of science allows an open discussion of evolution is sorely mistaken,” said Dr. John G. West, associate director of the Center for Science and Culture. “When it comes to intelligent design, private and government-run agencies are suppressing free speech.”