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What Exactly Is Being Decided in the David Coppedge “Intelligent Design” Trial

Opening statements wrapped up today and one thing is beyond doubt: this trial will be misrepresented in the media, even the relatively simple question of what’s being decided. A Los Angeles Times blog reports:

In the trial of a former Jet Propulsion Laboratory employee who claims he was fired for his belief that God had a hand in shaping the universe, a judge will determine what’s dogma and what isn’t, not a religious expert.

Actually what Coppedge claims is that he was demoted not fired for seeking to share his scientific view that nature gives evidence of purpose and design, whether God’s or otherwise. He was fired in retaliation after he tried to protect his right to do this, and to protect his job.
The LA Times writer is referring to Judge Hiroshige’s decision not to hear from a legal scholar (not a religion expert) on the larger context of anti-ID discrimination in academia. Crucially, no one but no one on either side is asking the judge to rule on the scientific status of intelligent design. JPL’s legal team and Coppedge’s lawyer William Becker have cast the trial very clearly as an employment discrimination case.
In the conclusion of his statement, Becker underlined that it’s all about “an employee who was treated differently because of his interest in intelligent design; who acted in a manner he thought was appropriate to protect his rights and his job, and for just that reason his job was taken away from him.” (You may wish to check the final transcript for the precise quote.)
JPL’s lead attorney Jim Zapp emphasized how (in his theory) intelligent design per se is irrelevant to what happened to David Coppedge. JPL casts the case as a simple one where Coppedge was the subject of persistent complaints about his competence and attitude — stubborn, poor listener, blaming others for his own failings. Beyond this, he overstepped bounds with coworkers in pressing his views and DVDs on them.
The JPL team has 15 people ready to testify to Coppedge’s failings on the job. Oddly, though, none of this appears ever to have been documented contemporaneously by any of these folks, in a workplace that was otherwise very good about putting such matters down in writing. Not in reports, emails, written complaints, nothing.
Intelligent design enters into things in a fashion that won’t surprise readers of ENV, with bogus insinuations of sinister motives.
Apparently, Coppedge took an organized approach in trying to introduce people to the pro-ID DVDs from Illustra Media. For his personal reference, he kept a list of those colleagues to whom he offered the DVDs and he took brief notes on their feedback. Yes, he was interested in their response to the ideas he sought to share! One co-worker, who discovered a sticky note on one of his DVDs with names on it, found this to be evidence of his “targeting” colleagues, with a “secret list of people with whom he spoke.” It’s this lady whose complaint initiated the “harassment” inquiry that resulted in his demotion.
Except that JPL also denies that taking away someone’s prestigious if “informal” job title and special responsibilities and thereby embarrassing him in front of coworkers amounts in any way to “demoting” him since he retained his salary and benefits and “formal” title.
The real question before Judge Hiroshige comes down this: Who is David Coppedge? The Coppedge that JPL depicts seems completely at odds with the Coppedge that I’ve come to know slightly since coming down here to Southern California and that other people tell me about. The idea that this guy could “harass” anyone is just not credible to me at the moment.
So it will be very interesting to see what happens when Coppedge takes the stand, perhaps tomorrow.

David Klinghoffer

Senior Fellow and Editor, Evolution News
David Klinghoffer is a Senior Fellow at Discovery Institute and the editor of Evolution News & Science Today, the daily voice of Discovery Institute’s Center for Science & Culture, reporting on intelligent design, evolution, and the intersection of science and culture. Klinghoffer is also the author of six books, a former senior editor and literary editor at National Review magazine, and has written for the Los Angeles Times, New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Washington Post, Seattle Times, Commentary, and other publications. Born in Santa Monica, California, he graduated from Brown University in 1987 with an A.B. magna cum laude in comparative literature and religious studies. David lives near Seattle, Washington, with his wife and children.



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