Free Speech Icon Free Speech
News Media Icon News Media

David Coppedge’s Critics Take “Ready, Fire, Aim” Approach

Casey Luskin

Critics of David Coppedge’s lawsuit against Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) alleging discrimination against his pro-intelligent design views have been repeatedly misrepresenting the facts of his case. The latest example is an attorney quoted in an article with Federal News Radio who makes a number of factual errors. According to the article, Bill Bransford, a partner at the Washington D.C.-based law firm Shaw, Bransford and Roth, stated, “Coppedge apparently ‘believed he was talking to willing people about his theories, but apparently some of these people complained.'” Bransford does not seem to be aware of the facts of Coppedge’s case, since Coppedge was specifically told by his supervisors that no one he’d spoken to about intelligent design (ID) had complained.

Bransford goes on to make more misplaced criticisms of Coppedge’s suit:

In a workplace where, especially like the Jet Propulsion Lab where they’re working on federal money on federal projects, if you’re spending a lot of your work time talking about a scientific theory that some people think is like a religion and you’re told not to do that, well I think maybe management has the right to make that kind of requirement in the workplace.

Perhaps JPL has the right to ban all discussion of ID if that’s what it really wants to do (though this would be quite biased and unscientific, since part of their mission is to study origins, including questions like “How did we get here?”). But no such ban existed. As we discussed here, JPL had no prior policy banning all discussion of ID. Yet they ordered David Coppedge to stop talking about ID.

But that’s not all they did. JPL also punished and demoted Coppedge–for violating a ban that didn’t exist at the time he was sharing pro-ID videos with co-workers. The article makes it sound like Coppedge was warned then demoted after not following the warning. But that’s not what happened. As soon as JPL administrators implemented the ban, Mr. Coppedge stopped loaning the pro-ID videos. But he was demoted anyway. Also left out of the article is the fact that JPL has now admitted that its reprimand was “inappropriate,” and has pulled it from Coppedge’s file–yet the demotion stays! (See paragraphs 37-39 of the amended complaint.)

What is more, even after JPL administrators punished Coppedge, they never implemented an all-out universal ban on talking about ID. The ban applies ONLY to David Coppedge, and JPL has done NOTHING to penalize or sanction those employees who have attacked ID at JPL, without any penalty whatsoever. While ID-critics should be free to talk about ID, as well as ID-proponents, it’s clear that at JPL there’s disparate treatment going on here.

Finally, the article makes it sound as if Coppedge was using up valuable office time while proselytizing co-workers. I would suspect that discussions around the office about the previous night’s ball games took up more time. Likewise, so might have discussions about the presidential race between Obama or McCain. Even if Coppedge had been going around talking to his co-workers about ID, in the opinion of the attorney consulted by the reporter, this is an uncertain question.

But Coppedge maintains that he would only share pro-ID videos a couple times per month. And the “discussions” were simply asking certain colleagues whether they wanted to be loaned Unlocking the Mystery of Life or The Privileged Planet to watch it on their own time. It seems doubtful that these short conversations were interfering with anyone’s work; even if there was nominal interference, it would have been far less than many other around-the-office conversations.

Mr. Bransford reportedly told Federal News Radio, “it’s not clear to me who’s right.” Perhaps that’s because he was not aware of the facts of the case before he criticized Mr. Coppedge’s suit.


Casey Luskin

Associate Director, Center for Science and Culture
Casey Luskin is a geologist and an attorney with graduate degrees in science and law, giving him expertise in both the scientific and legal dimensions of the debate over evolution. He earned his PhD in Geology from the University of Johannesburg, and BS and MS degrees in Earth Sciences from the University of California, San Diego, where he studied evolution extensively at both the graduate and undergraduate levels. His law degree is from the University of San Diego, where he focused his studies on First Amendment law, education law, and environmental law.



David CoppedgeLaw and CourtsNationNewsPolitics