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University of Kentucky Pays $100,000+ to Settle Gaskell Discrimination Lawsuit

According to news articles, the University of Kentucky (UK) has settled the discrimination lawsuit filed against it by Martin Gaskell, an astronomer who was denied a job due to his perceived doubts about neo-Darwinian evolution.

The case was scheduled to go to trial on February 8th, but today counsel for both sides filed a joint motion to dismiss the case pursuant to the settlement. According to the Associated Press:

The university has agreed to pay $125,000 to Martin Gaskell in exchange for Gaskell dropping a federal religious discrimination suit. Gaskell claimed he was passed over to be director of UK’s MacAdam Student Observatory in 2007 because of his religion and statements that were perceived to be critical of evolution.

Court exhibits showed Gaskell was a top candidate, but some professors called him “something close to a creationist” and “potentially evangelical” in e-mails.

Gaskell was represented by the American Center for Law and Justice (ACLJ), which said:

“The standard of suspicion — rightly described as a ‘McCarthyism of the Left’ by one UK professor — applied by some to Gaskell because of his religious writings and statements should have no place in universities of all places,” Manion added. “The ease with which some of the people involved in this process were willing to tar Gaskell with the labels of ‘scientific creationist,’ ‘evolution-basher,’ and other pejoratives based on half-remembered hearsay and extremely selective reading of his non-professional writings was truly disturbing to witness. We can only hope that this case will send a message throughout academia that religious intolerance is just as unlawful as other forms of prejudice and bias.”

Of course the University of Kentucky denies any wrongdoing, but the final settlement reflects Gaskell’s strong case against UK. As we’ve discussed previously, Gaskell himself is not a creationist and calls himself an “old earth theistic evolutionist” who has “no trouble with the natural selection process.” However, in this case Gaskell’s actual views are less important than what the UK thought he believed, and why UK denied him the job. Gaskell presented strong evidence that UK denied him the job because of his perceived views on “biology and religion.”

UK’s perceptions stemmed from Gaskell’s online notes from a talk where he favorably cites the works of proponents of intelligent design like Michael Behe and Phillip Johnson, and states, “there are significant scientific problems in evolutionary theory,” and “these problems are bigger than is usually made out in introductory geology/biology courses.” In his deposition testimony he further stated that “when it comes to trying to explain everything, and particularly the origin of life … we just don’t have any satisfactory theory.”

What this case shows is that if you express any form of doubt about Darwin–even if you are totally open to a theistic evolution position–you might be labeled a “creationist” and face discrimination in the academy. What you actually believe doesn’t matter. And whether your views are scientifically defensible doesn’t matter. What matters are the perceptions and fears of your colleagues and conforming to a climate of intolerance towards Darwin-skeptics. Sadly, this culture of intolerance cost a highly qualified astronomer an excellent job at UK.

We’ll have a follow-up article soon discussing more of the evidence in Gaskell’s case of intolerance towards UK.