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ACLU Lawyer and ScienceBloggers Make Off-Base Arguments Against Coppedge Case

A law professor from Loyola Law School in Los Angeles (who was previously elected head of the Southern California ACLU) was quoted in an article in the San Gabriel Valley Tribune commenting on the David Coppedge’s lawsuit against Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL):

“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.”

This raises the question…

Does it Matter to the Case Whether Intelligent Design is Religion?

First, whether courts have or have not “viewed intelligent design as a religious belief” is irrelevant to Coppedge’s lawsuit. What matters is that, as the Coppedge v. JPL complaint alleges, one of Coppedge’s supervisors angrily asserted, “Intelligent Design is religion,” accused Coppedge of “pushing religion,” and ordered Coppedge to stop talking about ID on threat of termination. William Becker, Coppedge’s attorney, explains why the employer’s subjective belief that ID is religion is what matters (rather than the actual status of ID) in a recent ID the Future Podcast:

[W]hat it amounts to is employment discrimination under California’s Fair Employment and Housing Act, based on the claim that David [Coppedge] was pushing his religion, and therefore it’s based upon a discriminatory motive grounded in religious discrimination.

In this case we look into the mind of the employer and what the employer was motivated by. Intelligent design is not religious speech and David Coppedge doesn’t believe it’s religious speech, but the employer in this case was apparently motivated by the perception that intelligent design is religion. And therefore, the employer, acted in a manner that discriminated against David’s speech, believing it to be religiously motivated.

It’s kind of an unusual case. It would be similar to somebody discriminating against, say, a non-Muslim who is wearing particular, say, Muslim dress, and is discriminated against based upon the perception that that individual is a Muslim. So the real problem for the employer in this case is not whether or not intelligent design is religious speech, but the fact that they perceived it to be religious speech.

This is why ScienceBlogger Ed Brayton is simply wrong to take the easy way out and claim that “the Intelligent Design crowd” is “engaged in a convenient bit of hypocrisy where they claim that ID is not religious, but if anyone is not allowed to advocate for it then they are being discriminated on the basis of religion” and that “The DI, as usual, is trying to have it both ways — to claim simultaneously that ID is not religious at all AND that any attempt to suppress the expression of ID is anti-religious discrimination.”

There’s no need for confusion here unless you want to remain confused about the case. I explained the situation in two perfectly clear sentences in our press release: “Intelligent design is not religion, and nothing in the DVDs that Coppedge shared deals with religion. Even so, it’s unlawful for an employer to discriminate against an employee based on what they deem is religion.”

We’re being utterly consistent, and if there’s any “convenient bit of hypocrisy,” it’s actually on the part of the evolution lobbyists. In fact, Coppedge’s case is not entirely dissimilar from an asymmetry in the law explored in a recent article I published in Liberty University Law Review:

If selective enforcement of the law is a hallmark of tyranny, then we should be exceedingly troubled by both the constitutional implications and hypocrisy of the evolution lobby — behavior that opposes advocating [views like] ID [in public schools] on the grounds they are religious viewpoints, but expressly endorses public schools inhibiting, opposing, and disapproving of those purported religious viewpoints.

(Casey Luskin, “Zeal for Darwin’s House Consumes Them: How Supporters of Evolution Encourage Violations of the Establishment Clause,” 3(2) Liberty University Law Review 403, 444 (Spring, 2009).)

While Coppedge’s case lies outside of the public school arena, one can likewise argue that when employers maintain that ID is religion, they cannot refuse to grant ID advocates the full protections of laws prohibiting religious discrimination. Employers can’t label ID as “religion” and then expect to be exempt from religious discrimination laws.

The reality of course is that ID is not religion, but science. How much more, then, should Coppedge’s speech advocating ID be protected at a top taxpayer-funded scientific institution like JPL, whose mission includes studying the origin of life and the universe? Whether ID is deemed science or religion, Coppedge’s speech should have been permissible. And either way, advocating for ID is apparently a bridge too far for certain supervisors at JPL.

It’s really not that complicated.

More on JPL’s discriminatory treatment of ID in a subsequent post.