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NASA Persecution Case Reaches a Grim Anniversary

Image: Cassini Saturn orbiter via JPL/NASA.

We’ve missed — but not by much — an anniversary. Ten years ago, our friend and esteemed Evolution News contributor David Coppedge reached the end of his road with NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, where he had held an important position with the Cassini mission to Saturn. JPL demoted and finally terminated him. What was David’s offense? He shared information about intelligent design with willing colleagues. A judge ruled against him in his lawsuit. I was present for the trial and reported on it here at the time. 

So it’s ten years now since Coppedge was compelled to accept that his egregious persecution would be allowed to stand, uncorrected. As David wrote to me recently:

Ten years ago, in January 2013, without explanation, a lone judge ruled against my case against JPL on all 10 counts of discrimination and retaliation regarding intelligent design. Three years of hard work on a widely publicized case went down the drain that day, January 16, a week after I had been diagnosed with cancer. 

I want to assure everyone that life is good for me now; a major surgery in February 2013 was very successful (profound thanks to City of Hope Hospital), and the remaining traces are treatable with monthly injections. I have good quality of life, freedom to eat and travel, and opportunities to work on worthwhile projects like writing for Evolution News.

All About Intelligent Design

As he also notes, “Two key documents show that the dispute was about intelligent design, not about work habits, personality, manner, or anything else.”

Indeed. As the Free Science website summarizes:

David Coppedge worked for 14 years as an information technology specialist and system administrator for the Cassini mission to Saturn, operated by the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in California under a contract with NASA. Cassini was regarded by many as the most ambitious interplanetary exploration mission ever launched. Coppedge served as the mission’s “Team Lead” System Administrator for nine years. In this position, he and his team managed the computers that sent and received messages from the Cassini spacecraft. Coppedge was a valued JPL employee who received positive performance reviews.

That is, until his supervisors censored, disciplined, demoted, and ultimately terminated him after he shared ideas that superiors labeled “unwelcome” and “disruptive.” What was so disruptive that it entailed punishing a long-standing and faithful employee? Coppedge occasionally loaned Illustra Media DVDs about intelligent design to co-workers who expressed an interest in watching them (Coppedge served as a member of Illustra Media’s board of directors). After one co-worker complained, a supervisor called Coppedge into a meeting where Coppedge says he was berated for believing in intelligent design and warned that he was not allowed “to discuss religion or politics with anyone in this office or it will be difficult for you to maintain employment in this organization.” This was despite the fact that other employees according to Coppedge were allowed to freely express their views on a variety of non-work topics. “In fact my own boss, to a captive audience, in our staff meetings each week would show political cartoons, and some of them had a particular political bent to them,” he recalled. Although Coppedge complied with the one-sided gag order, administrators gave him a written warning after a secretive investigation, removed him as Team Lead, and issued a very negative annual review. Believing he was being treated unfairly, he filed an employment discrimination lawsuit against JPL in 2010. The next year JPL terminated him. His discharge looked like blatant retaliation, although JPL maintained otherwise.

Coppedge lost his lawsuit in 2012.

Enforcing the “Consensus”

Look there for all the background on the case that you’ll need to understand what happened and why it matters. As David commented, 

There are frequent lectures at JPL about Darwinian evolution and the origin of life and there are people who will have Darwin fish on their doors, or cartoons mocking intelligent design or conservative politics and things like that. And they get away with it. But I was singled out for having views that differed from the consensus view.

For more information about this noteworthy free speech case, which illustrates how the scientific “consensus” on ID is enforced, you can also listen to the excellent series of reports we released in 2016 on ID the Future. They recount the story in David’s own words.

Every case of anti-ID speech suppression is different, whether the targets are scientists, teachers, students, or others. If you are a target, or feel yourself to be, your best route is to seek guidance via our Help & Advice page at Free Science