Monday, March 19, 2012

Can a NASA worker proselytize Intelligent Design?

Coppedge is — or was — a computer analyst and team leader at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Pasadena, working on the Cassini Saturn project. He is also a believer in intelligent design, the idea that life is too complex to have emerged and advanced without the hand of a creator behind it. Coppedge both runs a "creative-evolution" website and serves on the board of a company that produces intelligent design videos. Every bit of this is Constitutionally protected and none of it need have interfered with his work on the Cassini project — even if his beliefs do make something of an awkward fit with a mission that is intended, in part, to look for the chemical and evolutionary origins of life, with no role for anything other than the strictly empirical. Still, in 2009 Coppedge was demoted and in 2011 he was fired; both moves, he claims, were a result of religious discrimination.

Not so, says JPL. Coppedge, they argue, was harassing his co-workers by pushing his intelligent design video on them and engaging in unwelcome arguments about the origins of life. He is also alleged to have made coworkers uncomfortable with his overbearing conversations about his support for Proposition 8 — California's anti-same sex marriage amendment — and his belief that the JPL holiday party ought to be renamed a Christmas party. He was, according to his former superiors, reprimanded and told to confine such discussions to the lunch hour or other free time. Coppedge, according to those same superiors, responded by alleging a "hostile work environment."

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