March 12, 2012 Print

Fired Computer Scientist Heads to Court

by Karla Dial

Lawyers for a scientist formerly employed by the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in California were in court for opening arguments today, saying their client was demoted and later terminated because of his Christian faith and views on intelligent design — the idea that some aspects of the universe and living things are so complex, they can only be explained by a designer.

David Coppedge worked for JPL for 15 years, including a prestigious nine-year stint as “team lead,” maintaining the computer networks and taking care of technical issues for the mission exploring Saturn and its moons. But in 2009, he was demoted, and terminated in 2011.

The laboratory says Coppedge was one of 246 employees laid off last year during a planned reduction in force due to budget cuts. But Coppedge’s attorney, Bill Becker, said there were other considerations behind that decision.

“The wrongful demotion was based on discriminatory actions, based on coworkers who accused him of harassment,” Becker said.

Coppedge, an evangelical Christian, discussed his views on intelligent design at work, and distributed DVDs about it from Illustra Media, on whose board he sits.

He also spoke with his coworkers about the California amendment defining marriage as the union of one man and one woman (known as Prop. 8), and asked the company to change the name of the annual “holiday” potluck luncheon back to the annual “Christmas” potluck luncheon.

“Because of those silly reasons and because he tried to talk to people the night before the Prop. 8 election about it — he wasn’t being pushy at all, but these people didn’t want to hear it — he was demoted,” Becker said. “In a normal environment, people would say, ‘I’m not on the same page with you, I don’t want to hear about it,’ but these people elevated it to the level of harassment and took it to his supervisor.”

Coppedge filed a lawsuit for wrongful demotion against JPL in 2010, and added wrongful termination to it last year.

John West, associate director for the Center for Science and Culture at the Discovery Institute, said the scientific community is generally biased against people who support the idea of intelligent design.

“There is a war in America on anyone who dissents from Darwin’s theory of unguided evolution,” he said.

Learn more about Illustra Media.