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NASA lab accused of crackdown on intelligent design

The Cassini project by NASA’s Jet Propulsion Lab captures the image of lightning on Saturn (NASA/JPL-Caltech/SSI)

A complaint has been filed against NASA’s Jet Propulsion Lab, which sent Galileo to Jupiter and dispatched a ship named Dawn to orbit asteroids Vesta and Ceres, claiming managers there discriminated against and demoted a key project worker because he shared intelligent-design videos with co-workers.

The case has been filed by David Coppedge, an information-technology specialist and systems administrator on the lab’s Cassini mission to Saturn, which has been described as the most ambitious interplanetary exploration ever launched.

Images recently released from the project reveal lightning on Saturn.

“For the offense of offering videos to colleagues, Coppedge faced harassment, an investigation cloaked in secrecy and a virtual gag order on his discussion of intelligent design,” said attorney Casey Luskin of Discovery Institute’s Center for Science and Culture.

Luskin serves as a consultant to the Coppedge lawsuit, which is being handled by Los Angeles First Amendment attorney William J. Becker Jr. of the Becker Law Firm and includes allegations of free-speech violations and wrongful demotion.

“Coppedge was punished even though supervisors admitted never receiving a single complaint regarding his conversations about intelligent design prior to their investigation, and even though other employees were allowed to express diverse ideological opinions, including attacking intelligent design,” Luskin said.

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The complaint was filed in California Superior Court. Officials at the JPL today told WND they had not yet seen the court filing and could not comment.

The action explains that a division of the California Institute of Technology JPL operates under a contract with NASA.

David Coppedge

Coppedge was a “Team Lead” Systems Administrator on the Cassini mission until JPL demoted him for allegedly “pushing religion” by loaning interested co-workers DVDs supportive of intelligent design.

Coppedge is suing JPL and Caltech for religion discrimination and harassment, retaliation, violation of his religious rights and wrongful demotion.

“Intelligent design is not religion, and nothing in the DVDs that Coppedge shared deals with religion,” said Luskin. “Even so, it’s unlawful for an employer to discriminate against an employee based on what they deem is religion.”

Among the coming JPL projects is Aquarius, which is to offer the first-ever global maps of salt concentrations in the ocean surface needed to understand heat transport and storage in the ocean.

Its Deep Space 1 left Earth in 1998 and tested an ion engine that could power future solar-system explorers.

The case alleges Coppedge’s supervisors demoted and humiliated him for advancing ideas that superiors labeled “unwelcome” and “disruptive.”

The situation reached a boiling point in 2009 when a supervisor angrily harassed Coppedge, claiming “intelligent design is religion” and that Coppedge was “pushing religion.”

Coppedge’s complaint about that harassment resulted in a retaliatory investigation and “severe limitations” on Coppedge’s free-speech rights, the case explains.

The actions against him continued, even though supervisors eventually admitted they had no complaints about him, and other employees were allowed to discuss whatever topics they chose, the case explains.

The complaint said, “Intelligent design offers scientific evidence that life’s development is best explained as reflecting the design of an intelligent cause, citing mainstream research in biology, cosmology and paleontology.”

The DVDs included “Unlocking the Mystery of Life” and “The Privileged Planet.”

The Discovery Institute notes this is just the latest in a series of disputes involving intelligent design.

Previously, the California Science Center in Los Angeles, a state agency, was sued following its “discriminatory cancellation” of a contract to screen an intelligent-design film.

At Iowa State in 2006, supervisors denied tenure to and forced out a distinguished astrophysicist for co-authoring a book on intelligent design in cosmology.

In 2005, supervisors at the Smithsonian investigated, harassed and demoted an evolutionary biologist for editing a pro-intelligent-design article in a peer-reviewed technical journal.

And in the University of Idaho in 2005, the university’s president banned faculty on campus from teaching against evolution-theory orthodoxy.

“Anyone who thinks that today’s culture of science allows an open discussion of evolution is sorely mistaken,” said John G. West, associate director of the Discovery Institute’s Center for Science and Culture. “When it comes to intelligent design, private and government-run agencies are suppressing free speech.”