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. Reality

    Only for the newbies:

    What we do know: (from the fields of astrophysics, nuclear physics, geology and the history of religion)

    1. The Sun will burn out in 3-5 billion years so we have a time frame.

    2. Asteroids continue to circle us in the nearby asteroid belt.

    3. One wayward rock and it is all over in a blast of permanent winter.

    4. There are enough nuclear weapons to do the same job.

    5. Most contemporary NT exegetes do not believe in the Second Coming so apparently there is no concern about JC coming back on an asteroid or cloud of raptors/rapture.

    6. All stars will eventually extinguish as there is a limit to the amount of hydrogen in the universe. When this happens (100 trillion years?), the universe will go dark. If it does not collapse and recycle, the universe will end.

    7. Super, dormant volcanoes off the coast of Africa and under Yellowstone Park could explode catalytically at any time ending life on Earth.

    Bottom line: our apocalypse will start between now and 3-5 billion CE. The universe apocalypse, 100 trillion years?

    No mention of a creator in this scenario

    Think infinity and recycling with the Big Bang expansion followed by the shrinking reversal called the Gib Gnab and recycling back to the Big Bang repeating the process on and on forever. Human life and Earth are simply a minute part of this cha-otic, sto-cha-stic, expanding, shrinking process disappearing in five billion years with the burn out of the Sun and maybe returning in another five billion years with different life forms but still subject to the va-ga-ries of its local star.

    March 15, 2012 at 12:21 am |
    • RS

      Infinity only exists in mathmatics, not reality.

      March 15, 2012 at 2:33 pm |
  2. Chad

    Why is it ok to utter the words "Jesus Christ" in todays workplace only if it is done in vain?

    March 14, 2012 at 11:30 pm |
    • Jadugara

      Why should we care?

      March 15, 2012 at 12:46 am |
  3. God Almighty

    There SHOULD be a scientific bias against intelligent design!!! It has basis in reality.

    Geez, people!

    March 14, 2012 at 11:13 pm |
  4. Patriarchae

    This guy went around handing out DVDs and was given a warning before he was fired due to his co-workers complaining about this. His termination was fair and well-deserved. Once this reaches court, I predict his case will completely fall apart, as do most other suits of this nature.

    He had it coming anyways. I doubt many at NASA was able to tolerate his illogical BS for long. In an organization that relies on logical and analytical thinking, this guy was undoubtedly the weakest chain there was.

    March 14, 2012 at 11:08 pm |
    • God Almighty

      I am God, and I approve of your message!

      March 14, 2012 at 11:14 pm |
    • Oh Yeah

      What he was doing is like trying to sign people up for Amway memberships in the workplace, except ID is in direct compet.ition with the actual science that NASA promotes, which makes this worse really. More like a hospital employee selling homeopathic "cures" while on the job.

      March 15, 2012 at 1:21 am |
  5. John

    Intelligent Design is nothing more than creationism wrapped up in made up science in an attempt to prop up religion with the illusion of solid science. It’s going to hurt American and make America a third world nation when it comes to the basic sciences. Right wing religious extremists don’t care about the scientific process all they want to do is promote the dogma. They will do almost anything (including frivolous law suits) to get their cause in the lime light.

    March 14, 2012 at 11:01 pm |
    • Oh Yeah

      ID isn't even wrapped up in science. All it has is a big, cheap 'ol sticker with the word "science" scribbled on it in crayon.


      March 15, 2012 at 1:16 am |
  6. forwardmarch

    Years ago a co-worker would stand in the hallway handing out religious pamphlets to whoever walked by. I warned her what she was doing was illegal – her reaction of shock and surprise was so phony! She knew good and damn well she was violating the rules of our Federal Govt workspace (she was a religious zealot to the extreme). I told her under the Federal guidlines she was allowed to have this material on her desk but could not hand them out – I also informed her boss. It worked – she stop bringing those pamphlets into the building.

    March 14, 2012 at 10:39 pm |
  7. migeli

    I never heard of Jesus saying anything about blasphemy.The trouble is you people make all this up as you go along just the way the bible and and all the other holy books have been revised a thousand times.

    March 14, 2012 at 10:25 pm |
    • cbinal

      Mark 3:28 and 29

      March 14, 2012 at 11:04 pm |
    • Oh Yeah

      Why didn't Jesus also say "or blasphemes against me"?

      March 15, 2012 at 1:10 am |
  8. CJA

    "Bias"? Of course there is Bias against this. Just like if a weather forecaster did a rain dance and ignored more modern techniques he should be fired

    March 14, 2012 at 10:06 pm |
    • clsmooth25

      dont ask dont tell keep the cohesiveness of a company you work for as a system administrator why would you be a cancer in the locker room. Do your job because it takes a team on the sane page to accomplish greatness this goes whether in the military, sports or this business that needed all players on the same wave length to accomplish this mission. dont ask dont tell. "Your personal opinions or lifestyle would not be detimental if you keep that to yourself, and do it on your on time with like believers otherwise it will cause a weak link in a chain thats been strong for a long time doing greatness before you came along . Dont apply

      March 14, 2012 at 10:11 pm |
  9. scubadude

    Oh my GOD...oops...oh my darwin....somebody doesn't buy into all the scientific guessing....so much for freedom of thought and speech...

    March 14, 2012 at 10:05 pm |
    • Gadflie

      Guessing? Are you actually that clueless?

      March 14, 2012 at 11:01 pm |
    • callnews

      It's more like a crap shoot. Billions of dollars are spent searching for planets that have life. The vast majority of these planets are gas giants. The most recent pair discovered are solid, having surface temperatures exceeding 800 degrees. Of course because there are billions and billions of star systems, there is GREAT FAITH that there MUST be planets like earth with intelligent beings. The only problem is none of these planets are remotely in a position to support subcellular life.
      With billions of our money on the line, it's "Come on snake eye.".

      March 14, 2012 at 11:46 pm |
    • Jadugara

      No one infringed on his thought process, so I'm not sure what you're talking about... And there's a BIG difference between exercising one's freedom of speech in a public place, and verbally harrassing one's co-workers in their private business workplace... This guy did the latter....

      Rules are rules... He broke 'em... He got paddled for it... As it should be....

      Oh well,...perhaps he'll do better at his next job...

      March 15, 2012 at 12:57 am |
    • Oh Yeah

      Science is deduction, religion is guessing.

      March 15, 2012 at 1:07 am |
    • tallulah13

      I'm not sure that you are aware of this, but freedom of speech has absolutely nothing to do with the responsibility of doing one's job. Perhaps if he spent his work time on his professional duties instead of preaching his personal beliefs, he would have been spared when so many were laid off.

      March 15, 2012 at 1:12 am |
  10. yetanothergod

    Worship what you want. When working in a professional envionment shut your pie hole.

    March 14, 2012 at 10:00 pm |
  11. Mark Yelka

    Evidence enlightens. Reproducible evidence. Verifiable evidence. Communicable evidence. Science and knowledge.

    God enslaves. Controlling god. Illogical god. Angry god. Religion and insecurity.

    March 14, 2012 at 9:34 pm |
    • cbinal

      Loving God. Caring God . Merciful God.

      March 14, 2012 at 10:19 pm |
    • Gadflie

      Loving, caring, merciful? Have you ever actually read the Bible?

      March 14, 2012 at 11:02 pm |
    • Jadugara

      I guess his god wasn't merciful enough, loving enough, nor caring enough to keep the poor guy from losing his job...huh?

      Maybe he needs to find a new god...oh wait,...I'm sorry,...."intelligent designer"...

      March 15, 2012 at 1:00 am |
  12. pat_wobbly

    Did the .gov discriminate against all the other athiest NASA employees who got let go too?

    March 14, 2012 at 9:27 pm |
    • cbinal

      Like that!

      March 14, 2012 at 9:54 pm |
    • clsmooth25

      dont ask dont tell keep the cohesiveness of a company you work for as a system administrator why would you be a cancer in the locker room. Do your job because it takes a team on the sane page to accomplish greatness this goes whether in the military, sports or this business that needed all players on the same wave length to accomplish this mission. dont ask dont tell. "Your personal opinions or lifestyle would not be detimental if you keep that to yourself, and do it on your on time with like believers otherwise it will cause a weak link in a chain thats been strong for a long time doing greatness before you came along . Dont apply.

      March 14, 2012 at 9:56 pm |
  13. clsmooth25

    Scientists can't prove how the universe came to be and religion can't prove god created everthing in it. The thing about science is it does provide the answers to most of the mysteries we use to give god credit for. I believe in intelligent design but not that he will die and come back to save from our so called sins is the term I think is used. I call god everything around us from the stars to the smallest of bacteria. But i do believe in science answering lot of the mysteries of this world, educating us of its complexity and beauty. There would be room for a person to work in this company if he followed the don't ask don't tell policy. If he new that his speaking on this would sabotage the mission and goals the company get another job somewhere that believed your views and just shut up and let the well oiled machine of this great company continue to do and created great things.

    March 14, 2012 at 9:15 pm |
    • schwarzey

      Well-oiled machine?! Man, you are funny! From the rest of your comments, I think you've been reading a little too much Jack Kerouac, bud. What's wrong with punctuation?

      March 14, 2012 at 10:32 pm |
    • Oh Yeah

      Scientists haven't proven how the universe came to be YET, you mean.

      "I call god everything around us from the stars to the smallest of bacteria."
      And we call that "the universe", which is much less prone to confusing people who have an altogether different idea of what God is.

      March 15, 2012 at 1:05 am |
  14. migeli

    I want to know what sins I committed before I was even born that someone claims they died for? We are all supposed to feel guilty so as to donate money to churches is what I think.If people really did as Christ did instead of being hypocrites the world would be a better place. By the way Jesus was a socialist in case some of you greedy fascists didn't know.

    March 14, 2012 at 9:08 pm |
    • cbinal

      Don't know what you committed before you were born, but I think you just committed Blasphemy.

      March 14, 2012 at 10:01 pm |
    • Crad

      Migeli. You dont understand what the term "sin" is. See, you cannot sit in a room and argue about mathematics if you dont believe in numbers. And arguing that math is meaningless doesnt make sense in that context either

      March 14, 2012 at 11:54 pm |
    • Oh Yeah

      What is true is that you were born human, and humans have a nature to behave selfishly. In essence, that's what's really behind the concept of "original sin", and it really is something to keep mindful of, right?

      March 15, 2012 at 1:01 am |
    • Jadugara

      Cbinal,...you're in NO position to judge the man, if indeed you are actually an adherant to your faith...

      But especially because you obviously have no concept of what "blasphemy" is... The fellow you judged didn't take your Jesus' name in vain, he just used the name as part of his conversation while talking about the mythological figure himself...

      Shame, shame, cbinal,...you make a poor Christian, according to your own dogma...

      March 15, 2012 at 1:06 am |
  15. GetReal

    Assume that the fired scientist was expressing his views on santa claus being real (oops, sorry for offending those that believe the fella exists) and distributed dvd's to fellow coworkers about the "truth" of santa claus' existence.

    Would we deem this scientist to be delusional?

    If you answered yes, reread my post and replace "santa claus" with "god." Now, would we deem this scientist to be delusional? If not, why not?

    March 14, 2012 at 9:06 pm |
    • LouAZ

      Hey, leave the Grinch out of this.

      March 15, 2012 at 12:39 am |
  16. Atheism is not healthy for children and other living things

    Prayer changes things..

    March 14, 2012 at 9:00 pm |
    • GetReal

      It sure does. Billions of dollars and hours wasted on imaginary sky gods, when that time and effort and money could be directed at reality.

      Good post.

      March 14, 2012 at 9:08 pm |
    • Atheism is not healthy for children and other living things

      Prayer changes things

      March 14, 2012 at 9:10 pm |
    • JustSomeGuyWho

      So does meditation. So does positive thinking. So does finding the good in things. So does helping others. So does finding purpose and having passion for something. This is true whether you are a 'believer' or not.

      March 14, 2012 at 9:37 pm |
    • just sayin

      Prayer is talking with God, how is that true of non believers?

      March 14, 2012 at 9:48 pm |
    • JustSomeGuyWho

      lol ... I am aware that prayer is 'talking to god.' I've had that chat myself. The comment says that prayer changes things. I'm saying that these other things change things too. Believers 'believe' that it is god that affects their life. Personally I do not believe that it is god that positively affects your life. It is you that affects your life positively ... whether it is because you are following 'gods will' to do these things ... or you are doing them of your own accord. These things positively affect your life in the same way that prayer and belief does. Prayer is a form of meditation and a visualization of what you want. When you visualize what you want you are more likely to get it ... and I'm speaking about anything in life, least of all material things. If you are admitting 'sins', you are in fact forgiving yourself ... letting go of your 'big rocks'. etc.

      March 14, 2012 at 10:12 pm |
    • cbinal

      @JustSomeGuy Visualizing 10 billion dollars.. I can't wait till I get it. How long do I wait?

      March 14, 2012 at 10:32 pm |
    • JustSomeGuyWho

      lol ... well you could pray about it and it would take approximately the same amount of time.

      March 14, 2012 at 10:37 pm |
    • Crad

      Get real. What is reality?

      March 14, 2012 at 11:53 pm |
  17. The Only One

    Boo- oh god scared me LOL

    March 14, 2012 at 8:56 pm |
  18. MixedStandards

    I can't say if Coppedge was right or not in what he was allegedly doing but here is some food for thought.

    What if this man would have say...not believed in Einstein's Theory of Relativity? (Which definitely would have been limiting 🙂
    Or what if he believed in the Superstring theory?
    And then what if NASA had let him go on those grounds?
    I will not say what I believe, but I will say the "God/No-God" debate is far from over. And by treating the subject like it has been settled, scientists are limiting free thought. Which of course is horribly sad, since scientists are supposed to uphold free thinking.
    But oh well. Who really cares any more?

    March 14, 2012 at 8:55 pm |
    • TR6

      “And by treating the subject like it has been settled, scientists are limiting free thought. Which of course is horribly sad, since scientists are supposed to uphold free thinking.”

      No! Do a little research and you will quickly discover that scientists are not “supposed to uphold free thinking”, that’s liberal arts. Science is all about supporting rational, logical thinking. It is not the responsibility of scientists to disprove, or even accept, every idea that some person or persons have dreamed up (not even if it’s in 2000 year old (and very popular) book). It’s not their job (and I suspect your agree with me) to disprove vampires, unicorns, fairies, big foot or UFOs or anything else in a similar category like ID.

      March 14, 2012 at 9:50 pm |
  19. The Only One

    Those who pray to a thing that kills millions "cause they made it mad" are twisted things that should find their end at a noose or firing squad. Amen

    Yes I think you should all be dead are ya happy now LOLOL-GOD

    March 14, 2012 at 8:54 pm |
    • Crad

      God doesnt kill things because they made it mad. Thats like saying a mother hates her children for not letting them play in the streets. Shows you have no conception of what god is.. Only what others tell you god is. Think free

      March 14, 2012 at 11:52 pm |
    • Oh Yeah

      What did the Canaanites do to deserve being massacred on God's command? Expanding on your analogy it's like a mother ordering her children to break into another family's home, kill everyone living there, and moving in.

      March 15, 2012 at 12:56 am |
  20. Hello

    to learn more about the christian myth created by the Roman family the Flavians..
    Read Caesar's Messiah....

    March 14, 2012 at 8:40 pm |
    • Crad

      Whats the christian myth?

      March 14, 2012 at 11:50 pm |
    • LouAZ

      Crad – the christian myth ?
      Here's one;

      Jesus loves me yes I know
      For the Bible tells me so
      Little ones to Him belong
      As they are weak and he is strong

      How's that for building some guilt into a small child's forming mind ?

      Oneard Christian Soldiers . . .

      March 15, 2012 at 12:45 am |
    • LouAZ

      ONWARD – not Oneard. Sorry, this keyboard can't spell worth a damn.

      March 15, 2012 at 12:47 am |
    • Bobby



      March 15, 2012 at 12:53 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.