Terminated employee claims bias against intelligent design
NASA's Cassini space probe snapped this photo of jets spewing from Saturn's moons.
March 13th, 2012
10:08 PM ET

Terminated employee claims bias against intelligent design

By Stan Wilson, CNN

Los Angeles (CNN) - A former veteran systems administrator for NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory claimed during opening arguments in a civil lawsuit Tuesday that he was wrongfully terminated for expressing his views on intelligent design.

David Coppedge, who spent 15 years on the Cassini Mission, one of NASA and JPL's most ambitious planetary space explorations, asserts that he was unlawfully fired under his employer's anti-harassment and ethics policies. JPL contends Coppedge created a hostile workplace while expressing his religious views with co-workers.

His suit also claims that supervisors wrongly admonished him for distributing DVD documentary films titled "Unlocking the Mystery of Life" and "The Privileged Planet," which present biological and cosmological explanations for intelligent design, according to the complaint.

Coppedge claims he never forcibly compelled colleagues to accept his idea of intelligent design in the workplace. Intelligent design is a conviction that life is too complex to have developed solely through evolution and that the universe was designed by an intelligent entity.

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JPL, based in Pasadena, California, is one of the world's most prestigious institutions for scientific research and development institutions. In Coppedge's civil lawsuit, he describes JPL's space missions as designed, in part, to explore the origin of the universe, uncover whether life exists elsewhere in the universe - or is improbably confined to earth - and whether conditions necessary for life to exist reside elsewhere in the universe.

Launched in October 1997, the Cassini mission to Saturn included a sophisticated robotic spacecraft that orbited the ringed planet and provided streams of data about its rings, magnetosphere, moon Titan and icy satellites. Cassini was the largest interplanetary mission ever launched, with the largest technical staff and participation of 18 countries.

In his role, Coppedge was responsible for making technical and scientific recommendations to management and developing presentations about various technical capabilities of new systems and upgrades, his attorney William Becker Jr. said during opening arguments. During his tenure, Coppedge developed a "sincere interest in the scientific evidence behind life's origin," which led to his conviction about "intelligent design."

Coppedge shared the view that life and the existence of the universe derived not from "undirected material processes," but from "intelligent cause," said attorney Becker.

In March 2009, Coppedge claims that his supervisor advised him that co-workers had complained that he was harassing them over debates about his religious views and coercing them in the workplace into watching DVD programs about intelligent design. During his opening statements Tuesday, attorney Becker Jr. told a judge hearing the case that Coppedge's supervisor threatened him with termination if he "pushed his religion" and ordered Coppedge to refrain from discussing politics or religion with anyone in the office.

During that 2009 meeting, Coppedge alleges, his supervisor became angry and belligerent asserting that "intelligent design is religion" and ordered him to stop. "The tone of the meeting and conduct were abusive and constituted harassment," his attorney said in court.

JPL spokeswoman Veronica McGregor said the lawsuit "is completely without merit, and we intend to vigorously fight the allegations raised by Mr. Coppedge."

In their response to the civil suit, attorneys for JPL stated in court documents that one of Coppedge's co-workers complained to his supervisor that Coppedge made her feel so uncomfortable in discussing "non work related topics" that it bordered on harassment. The supervisor encouraged Coppedge to limit his discussions about topics like religion and politics to periods like lunch breaks, according to the response.

The documents state that other co-workers complained they also felt harassed when Coppedge expressed views in favor of California Proposition 8, the ballot initiative in 2010 that defined marriage between and man and woman.

"David Coppedge alienated his co-workers by the way he acted with them, and blamed anyone who complained about those interactions," according to JPL in their response. "He accuses his former project supervisor and line manager of making discriminatory and retaliatory employment decision, when they had in fact protected him for years."

JPL alleged that Coppedge "was seen as stubborn, unwilling to listen and always having to do things his way, which frustrated project members and resulted in errors."

Coppedge was demoted after eight years as lead systems administrator and terminated last year. He cited those actions as a factor in basis for his suit claiming religious discrimination, retaliation, harassment and wrongful demotion.

JPL has denied Coppedge's termination complaint, contending he was among 246 employees laid off as part of a downsizing plan that affected 300 staffers.

"JPL complies with all applicable state and federal employment laws including laws governing freedom of expression," said JPL spokeswoman McGregor.

California Institute of Technology operates JPL, which is federally funded under a contract with NASA. Scientists are employed by the Caltech.

The case has generated interest among advocates of intelligent design. The Alliance Defense Fund, a Christian civil rights group, and the Discovery Institute, a proponent of intelligent design, are supporting Coppedge's lawsuit. The National Center for Science Education, which supports the teaching of evolution in public education, is closely monitoring the case.

Coppedge is seeking damages for wrongful termination, including attorney fees. The nonjury trial is expected to last four weeks.

*An earlier headline for this article identified David Coppedge as a scientist. His attorney later said that despite his technical work with computers, he is not a scientist.

- CNN Belief Blog

Filed under: Belief • Christianity • Culture & Science • Science

soundoff (2,244 Responses)
  1. Yakobi

    There are no gods or goddesses, demons or devils, ghosts or goblins. Religion was invented by man to control the masses.

    March 14, 2012 at 11:35 am |
    • Brett

      I actually think religion was created with more benign intentions. It was a way to explain incomprehensible forces of nature to our early ancestors, which evolution had given a surplus of imagination from oversized brains, without the discipline to use that brain power wisely.

      It was only later in history, that religion was corrupted by malicious intentions of authority and control over people.

      March 14, 2012 at 11:44 am |
  2. TR6

    I have a friend at work; he is a very devout and committed Christian. I am a very committed atheist. We both get along fine and have not been reprimanded by management because we are both sensitive enough and bright enough to not go around proselytizing to each other, or anyone else at work. All it takes is a little consideration and discretion. This is not rocket science

    March 14, 2012 at 11:33 am |
    • Vasmikey

      Indeed! While at work, politics and religion is inappropriate.

      March 14, 2012 at 11:40 am |
  3. Brett

    Our Universe could have been ONE of Billions created by the Big Bang. We find ourselves here, because out of a billion universes, or universe was the only one to have the winning lottery of conditions for life. Ours is the "perfect" universe. Otherwise we wouldn't be here to ponder the question. It's like explaining the enormous odds of the lottery to a lottery winner. They don't care what the odds are because they WON!

    March 14, 2012 at 11:33 am |
  4. al in memphis

    First - It really too bad they did not have recorders during the days of Noah, it would read a lot like these post. So will the reaction to the truth be just like that the people knocking on the boat trying to get away from the flood waters.

    March 14, 2012 at 11:32 am |
    • cc

      Way to blabber on and not say much. I'm assuming you're some type of religious nut. Are you sure jesus would use a computer?

      March 14, 2012 at 11:43 am |
    • Brett

      If only God had invented the digital camera 2000 years ago. Nay, he had to wait for an enterprising human to come along and figure it out for him. Oh well, that's capitalism I guess.

      March 14, 2012 at 11:50 am |
    • TR6

      Actually there is an excellent recorder of major events on earth. It’s called GEOLOGY and one of the things is clearly shows is that there was never a worldwide flood

      March 14, 2012 at 11:51 am |
  5. Vasmikey

    I go with Sir Fredrick Hoyle who believes life came by an intelligent deliberate act. However, I would obey secular authorities or work rules which prohibit propagation of my beliefs at the work place and use appropriate times to discuss it. How about at other occasions; not at work? sigh.

    March 14, 2012 at 11:32 am |
  6. Gordon

    Science should be open to new ideas. Just because science cannot both validate and invalidate a new idea doesn't mean it has to reject it outright as invalid. The problem with many scientists is that they follow their scientific knowledge religiously, to the point of faith.

    Here is what a scientist should know: Evolution cannot create. The idea that evolution can create is a pure religion. Evolution is an explanation for a process that manifests in the form of a new instance in an environment that still follows the bounded condition of the environment.

    That process cannot exist without the will to survive. So basically evolution is nothing more than a manifest of futile attempt to survive in an environment that is decaying.

    Please don't say evolution created a new condition on the environment. And don't say the condition somehow changed at some point in time to facilitate creation of life. That's pure faith. There is no scientific ground to validate that in a consistent and measurable manner.

    March 14, 2012 at 11:31 am |
    • durundal

      If you want to buy into all the kooky bs, go for it. but KEEP IT OUT OF THE WORKPLACE. Just because you suckered for it, doesnt mean that everyone around you gives a rats ...

      March 14, 2012 at 11:34 am |
    • The Jackdaw

      God is not a "new" idea. Its mankinds first attempt to explain the world around us. Now science has tools and a deeper understanding of that world. Simply continuing to say "God did it" is just not good enough if you honestly want answers.

      March 14, 2012 at 11:34 am |
    • EvolvedDNA

      Gordon..you have confused abiogenesis with evolution.

      March 14, 2012 at 11:35 am |
    • cc

      It's called evidence (I.e fossils). God did it simply isn't enough for some people. Love when god huggers try and talk science.

      March 14, 2012 at 11:39 am |
    • TheThinker

      It's truly disappointing that, in this day and age, the posts still reveal bigotry.
      In medieval times, if someone proposed that God didn't create the universe, he was lambasted as a kook. Not only were the persecuters close-minded, but they were downright mean by attacking the person's intellect.
      Anyone can disagree politely, but keep in mind that intollerance for other opinions and disrespect, such as calling people "kook", has historically been done by the ignorant.

      March 14, 2012 at 11:43 am |
    • Chris, Austin

      Here's something you should know:

      There is no evidence whatsoever for anything you just said. Neither is there any single solitary shred of evidence of the existence of God. Not one single atomic little shred of proof.

      I believe in God, but that's an article of faith, and nothing more. Stop pretending that your faith is somehow equivalent to chemistry, biology, and astronomy. There is not one single concrete observation that proves the existence of God, and faith should not be taught in science class.

      Just because proselytizers learned how to weave a few polysyllabic words into their claims, doesn't make them scientists.

      March 14, 2012 at 11:53 am |
    • WASP

      @gordon: appearently you haven't studied evolution or you would understand it is the umbrella phrase for adaptation. enviromental changes are just one of many things that can cause adaptations in a certain species. one adaptation easily seen in humans is amount of melonin in our skin to protect us from the sun. areas of higher sun exposure lead to humans having higher melonin levels as humans migrated following their food they moved into europe and asia where lower exposure to sun caused a lose in melonin content. it take generations for an adaptation to become so predominate that it leads to a split in the genetic tree. a good anology for evolution would be " if evolution was a staircase, adaptation would be the stairs."

      March 14, 2012 at 11:55 am |
  7. Digger

    Which Mandrake the magician has to use sleight of hand to pull a rabbit out of a hat an Evolutionist can turn a rock into a rabbit simply by adding lots of time. hahahahaha Most people will believe almost anything if tickles their ears. That is why they keep buying the same rhetoric each election cycle. It is exactly the same with this evolution nonsense which is a fancy well written story you have to admit. Nonetheless this fancy well written story with all its detailed explanations ignores the elephants in the room. The origin of Male and Female is an elephant. Non-life to life is an elephant. Information from non-information is an elephant. So just check your brain at the door and pretend how smart you are with all the other evolution story tellers, puffing each other up. Pure and utter foolishness.

    March 14, 2012 at 11:31 am |
    • Cedar Rapids

      "Which Mandrake the magician has to use sleight of hand to pull a rabbit out of a hat "

      so we are back to 'it was magic' which is the whole religious lots argument.

      March 14, 2012 at 11:33 am |
    • EvolvedDNA

      Digger..you clearly do not understand evolution and no attempts to explain is going to work...yes of course it was god who gave you life..and god was given life by...............( fill in the blank.)

      March 14, 2012 at 11:39 am |
    • cc

      You sir, should win an award for being that stupid. Maybe a bullet to the face?

      March 14, 2012 at 11:42 am |
    • Chris, Austin

      No, you're confusing the medieval theory of spontaneous generation with evolution, which tends to indicate you were taught in a school that teaches "alternate theories."

      Which is why you're completely ignorant. Either that, or you're lying, thinking that your posts somehow move the debate.

      Either way, you're a laughingstock.

      March 14, 2012 at 12:01 pm |
    • WASP

      @digger: i'm not going to lie, your post made such utter nonsence it was truly confusing to read.

      March 14, 2012 at 12:05 pm |
  8. Just an opinion

    there is nothing wrong with a bias against stupid...

    March 14, 2012 at 11:30 am |
  9. jj

    That doesn't belong in the work place. Can you spell nut job?

    March 14, 2012 at 11:29 am |
  10. Schix

    The coworkers that he was harassing with his religious views are the ones who should be filing a suit against him.

    March 14, 2012 at 11:29 am |
  11. Phil in Oregon

    If you want science, take Biological Chemistry. At that point I said(and my teacher agreed) "this could not possibly have happened by accident"

    March 14, 2012 at 11:29 am |
    • The Jackdaw

      So, you are an 11th grader in Kentucky.

      March 14, 2012 at 11:30 am |
    • Dave

      So you get to a point where it's too tough to think analytically any further, and you put a cork in it by writing off the rest as "God did it"?

      March 14, 2012 at 11:31 am |
    • TheThinker

      LOL, a guy with the name JackDaw insults all 11th graders AND the entire state of Kentucky.

      If one doesn't agree with an opinion, insult the speaker. That's what free speech is all about, right? Anyone watch South Park? Cartman (the Jew-hating, selfish, supremicist) was on the Debate Team, and he never debated a single point, he would win by insulting the other speaker into submission.

      That's a cartoon anti-hero... The "doing it wrong" metaphore... No adult in real life would behave thusly, right?

      March 14, 2012 at 11:50 am |
  12. The Jackdaw

    This guy was just one of those opinionated nutcases who works on computers at the office. He runs around with his pocket protector and "Jesus is my boss" hat and tries to act smarter than scientists because he is insecure around them. They canned him for being a jacka$$ and now he is continuing to be a jacka$$ by taking them to court and getting on the news. This has nothing to do with science or religion. Its just a typical story about a jacka$$ with a mid-level job.

    March 14, 2012 at 11:29 am |
    • Clarify

      He was a project leader. Obviously smarter than your ignorant post.

      March 14, 2012 at 11:52 am |
  13. A. Theist

    2 + 2 ≠ 5

    No matter HOW many morons THINK that 2 + 2 = 5, it isn't. It never was. It never will be. But, there are those people out there who will INSIST that 2 + 2 = 5. Now if they just left it at that, it'd be OK. We could laugh at their stupidity, point at them and make funny faces, and jeer at their children for having such unintelligent parents.

    BUT THEY DON'T LEAVE IT AT THAT. No, they/re not happy unless they're foisting their stupidity and lies on other folk. On children! Telling our children that 2 + 2 = 5. That the Earth is only 5,000 years old. That dinosaurs never existed. That they're some sort of TEST to see if we're faithful to some egotistical and insecure petty god. That it's OK to do the most horrible things imaginable, then turn around and say "I'm a Christian" and think that's a free pass.

    The point is, if my grocery clerk wants to be a deluded nutwhack who believes in Jeebus – fine. I just don't want someone that is certifiably INSANE to be my doctor, mechanic, house builder, the guy who builds or designs bridges and buildings, air traffic controller, etc... No – I want those people to be SANE, RATIONAL HUMAN BEINGS.

    Not some idiot.

    And no, I do NOT have to respect your idiocy. Wouldn't you scoff if someone were to tell you that the Earth rides on the back of a VERY large turtle? But you'd be offending his religious beliefs! OH! I GET IT! YOU DON'T GIVE A CRAP ABOUT RELIGION OR BELIEFS – it's just your own particular flavor of insanity that you're all het up about.

    TOO BAD.

    2 + 2 ≠ 5

    It never has. It never will. You're an insane moron if you think it does.

    March 14, 2012 at 11:29 am |
    • Steve

      I couldn't have said it better myself. Well done.

      March 14, 2012 at 11:32 am |
    • Kreslev

      Just out of curiosity, do you interview all of those people before using there services? I know many people in those professions who are quite good at what they do. A belief in God does not prove or disprove one's intelligence, just as being a member of any particular religion does not prove or disprove intelligence. Also not all Christians believe in a 5000 year old earth (some believe in a figurative not a literal 7 days) or that dinosaurs did not exist. You arguing purely against the fundamentalist Christian stand point.

      March 14, 2012 at 1:48 pm |
    • Kreslev

      I left out a portion. I meant to say I know people in many of those professions who believe in God and are quite good at what they do.

      March 14, 2012 at 1:51 pm |
  14. Dave

    Of course there is Intelligent Design. The concept of God did not spring out of thin air - intelligent humans created him and then thousands of years later used the idea to explain what they did not understand and/or like about evolution. Gotta hand on to those ideas no matter what, huh? Including harassing your fellow employees with nonsense.

    March 14, 2012 at 11:28 am |
    • JonPeter

      If there is a creator, they set up a framework of physical laws how the universe progressed. Some of the events that came from that progression were stelalr and planetary formation, formation of complex molecules and evolution. There is plenty of evidence of these processes. Where those who push 'intelligent design' go wrong is they distort or deny real physical evidence to promote the notion that the earth is only 5000 years old and the world we see is as it was initially created.

      This guy crossed a line when he tried to proselytize in the workplace. The termination was justified.

      March 14, 2012 at 11:37 am |
    • lana

      Dave, people started to pray to thunder and rivers and woods many thousands years ago because they were scared. We probably would not have called them intelligent if we met them today. Why do you think people who started to believe in Jesus 2000 years ago were more intelligent than astrophysicists today?

      March 14, 2012 at 11:42 am |
  15. 1ofTheFallen

    To point your finger at someone and call them stupid for not believing in your science or religion when mankind and science is very very far from having all the answers only leaves several fingers pointing back at yourself. Until someone has all the answers with proven science or religion it makes no sense to argue about who is right or wrong.

    Neither one has all the answers, that' true, but religion has no answer at all. "God did it" is not an answer. Who created god?

    Who created the Big Dirt Ball in the sky? The collapsing Universe is not holding much water since it is still excelerating instead of slowing

    Your wrong Religion does have some very important answers. Treat people the way you would like to be treated is a good one. Thou shall not steal and murder are

    March 14, 2012 at 11:28 am |
    • Cedar Rapids

      "Your wrong Religion does have some very important answers. Treat people the way you would like to be treated is a good one. Thou shall not steal and murder are"

      Thats not religion, thats society. I do not abstain from theft and murder simply because a book tells me its wrong.

      March 14, 2012 at 11:35 am |
    • Dave

      For 1500 or so years the Christian Church maintained the doctrine that the Bible was allegorical and that whenever new knowledge came along that disturbed the standing allegorical understanding that then re-examine things to gain a new understanding. Truth was in the allegorical understanding, not the literal words.

      These days, for some people, the book has been turned into an icon for worship as the literal representation of God and rather than use it as intended it is now used as both a bludgeon upon intelligence itself and a blindfold upon those who hold it up as their worldly deity.

      March 14, 2012 at 11:36 am |
    • A. Theist

      "Until someone has all the answers with proven science or religion it makes no sense to argue about who is right or wrong."

      I don't need further answers or proof to tell me that 2 + 2 ≠ 5, nor do I have to refrain from thinking you are an idiot if YOU think 2 + 2 = 5.

      Stupid people cling to pretty little stories because it relieves their cowardice about death and things that can't be explained yet to their puny little intellectrs. The Earth is NOT just 5,000 years old. Dinosaurs actually walked the Earth – but not while Man was walking around. Evolution occurs. Global climate change is real.

      You can't just wish reality away., but tell you what. If your FAITH is so great – jump off a nearby high-rise. Jeebus will catch you if you believe hard enough. Honest he will! Go on – your FAITH can move mountains, right? Prayer can fix anything! JUMP! JUMP & FLY TO JEEBUS!

      March 14, 2012 at 11:37 am |
    • TR6

      Your wrong UFOs have some very important answers. Treat UFO believers the way you would like to be treated. Every screwball fantasy must be accepted a correct until it is proven 100% wrong

      March 14, 2012 at 12:24 pm |
  16. Ramon F. Herrera

    There is no place for evolution-deniers at NASA!! Good.

    March 14, 2012 at 11:28 am |
  17. Deanna

    Coppedge: explain giraffes.

    March 14, 2012 at 11:28 am |
    • kotekaman

      God is not bright, but evolution is downright stupid! LOL!

      March 14, 2012 at 11:38 am |
    • Heath

      Brilliant post and a very telling example of evolution.

      March 14, 2012 at 11:50 am |
  18. zip

    God help us if the judge went to Jerry Falwell's Liberty University. You do realize that is what the GOP is all about today, don't you?? Getting kooky religious beliefs writ into law? Vote for Little Ricky Santorum and find out.

    March 14, 2012 at 11:28 am |
    • 1ofTheFallen

      Much better of voting for the lawyer with no real work experience. TRANSPARENCY? 16 Vacations, $600 Tennis Shoes at the food bank? Keep voting for the 1%er

      March 14, 2012 at 11:31 am |
  19. David

    Itll come out in trial, but it sounds like someone pushing their beliefs.

    March 14, 2012 at 11:27 am |
  20. kotekaman

    To claim this guy was a scientist is an out and out lie! He was a computer technician. City college level education.

    March 14, 2012 at 11:26 am |
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About this blog

The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.