Wednesday, March 21, 2012

How exactly do you 'harass' an atheist?

Atheist harassment

The speech police have been working extra shifts, it seems.

From CNN:

 Terminated scientist claims bias against intelligent design
By Stan Wilson, CNN
Los Angeles (CNN) – A former veteran systems administrator for NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory claimed during opening arguments in a civil lawsuit Tuesday that he was wrongfully terminated for expressing his views on intelligent design. 
David Coppedge, who spent 15 years on the Cassini Mission, one of NASA and JPL's most ambitious planetary space explorations, asserts that he was unlawfully fired under his employer's anti-harassment and ethics policies. JPL contends Coppedge created a hostile workplace while expressing his religious views with co-workers. 
His suit also claims that supervisors wrongly admonished him for distributing DVD documentary films titled "Unlocking the Mystery of Life" and "The Privileged Planet," which present biological and cosmological explanations for intelligent design, according to the complaint. 
Coppedge claims he never forcibly compelled colleagues to accept his idea of intelligent design in the workplace. Intelligent design is a conviction that life is too complex to have developed solely through evolution and that the universe was designed by an intelligent entity. 
JPL, based in Pasadena, California, is one of the world's most prestigious institutions for scientific research and development institutions. In Coppedge's civil lawsuit, he describes JPL's space missions as designed, in part, to explore the origin of the universe, uncover whether life exists elsewhere in the universe - or is improbably confined to earth - and whether conditions necessary for life to exist reside elsewhere in the universe. 
Launched in October 1997, the Cassini mission to Saturn included a sophisticated robotic spacecraft that orbited the ringed planet and provided streams of data about its rings, magnetosphere, moon Titan and icy satellites. Cassini was the largest interplanetary mission ever launched, with the largest technical staff and participation of 18 countries.
In his role, Coppedge was responsible for making technical and scientific recommendations to management and developing presentations about various technical capabilities of new systems and upgrades, his attorney William Becker Jr. said during opening arguments. During his tenure, Coppedge developed a "sincere interest in the scientific evidence behind life's origin," which led to his conviction about "intelligent design.
Coppedge shared the view that life and the existence of the universe derived not from "undirected material processes," but from "intelligent cause," said attorney Becker.
In March 2009, Coppedge claims that his supervisor advised him that co-workers had complained that he was harassing them over debates about his religious views and coercing them in the workplace into watching DVD programs about intelligent design. During his opening statements Tuesday, attorney Becker Jr. told a judge hearing the case that Coppedge's supervisor threatened him with termination if he "pushed his religion" and ordered Coppedge to refrain from discussing politics or religion with anyone in the office.
During that 2009 meeting, Coppedge alleges, his supervisor became angry and belligerent asserting that "intelligent design is religion" and ordered him to stop. "The tone of the meeting and conduct were abusive and constituted harassment," his attorney said in court.
JPL spokeswoman Veronica McGregor said the lawsuit "is completely without merit, and we intend to vigorously fight the allegations raised by Mr. Coppedge." 
In their response to the civil suit, attorneys for JPL stated in court documents that one of Coppedge's co-workers complained to his supervisor that Coppedge made her feel so uncomfortable in discussing "non work related topics" that it bordered on harassment. The supervisor encouraged Coppedge to limit his discussions about topics like religion and politics to periods like lunch breaks, according to the response.
The documents state that other co-workers complained they also felt harassed when Coppedge expressed views in favor of California Proposition 8, the ballot initiative in 2010 that defined marriage between and man and woman. 
"David Coppedge alienated his co-workers by the way he acted with them, and blamed anyone who complained about those interactions," according to JPL in their response. "He accuses his former project supervisor and line manager of making discriminatory and retaliatory employment decision, when they had in fact protected him for years."
JPL alleged that Coppedge "was seen as stubborn, unwilling to listen and always having to do things his way, which frustrated project members and resulted in errors."
Coppedge was demoted after eight years as lead systems administrator and terminated last year. He cited those actions as a factor in basis for his suit claiming religious discrimination, retaliation, harassment and wrongful demotion. 
JPL has denied Coppedge's termination complaint, contending he was among 246 employees laid off as part of a downsizing plan that affected 300 staffers.
"JPL complies with all applicable state and federal employment laws including laws governing freedom of expression," said JPL spokeswoman McGregor.
California Institute of Technology operates JPL, which is federally funded under a contract with NASA. Scientists are employed by the Caltech. 
The case has generated interest among advocates of intelligent design. The Alliance Defense Fund, a Christian civil rights group, and the Discovery Institute, a proponent of intelligent design, are supporting Coppedge's lawsuit. The National Center for Science Education, which supports the teaching of evolution in public education, is closely monitoring the case. 
Coppedge is seeking damages for wrongful termination, including attorney fees. The nonjury trial is expected to last four weeks.

Of course, genuine malicious harassment that interferes with workflow is inappropriate, but I doubt that was the case.

After all, atheists have been driven to panic, hysteria and alienation by the mere sight of a prayer on a school wall, a passing glance at the Ten Commandments on a courthouse lawn, or brief mention of God at a school graduation.

In schools and on government property, atheists take you to court if you express religious views. In the private workplace, they fire you.

It doesn't take a lot to harass an atheist. Free speech, it seems, is sufficient. 


  1. "JPL alleged that Coppedge "was seen as stubborn, unwilling to listen and always having to do things his way, which frustrated project members and resulted in errors."

    Coppedge was demoted after eight years as lead systems administrator and terminated last year...

    JPL has denied Coppedge's termination complaint, contending he was among 246 employees laid off as part of a downsizing plan that affected 300 staffers."

    In other words, he totally deserved to be fired for his beliefs but we didn't fire him, he was laid off. Right.

    I have found that the term "religious discrimination" is usually defined so narrowly that it includes nothing, while other forms of discrimination--based on race or "sexual orientation"--are defined so broadly that they include looking at a person the wrong way and all varieties of other behaviors that hurt the sensitive feelings of professional victims.


    1. "In other words, he totally deserved to be fired for his beliefs but we didn't fire him, he was laid off. Right."

      I see you've never heard of asserting overlapping defenses. It is quite possible (and given the information that has come out in this case) likely that Coppedge was a disciplinary problem on the job for an extended period of time and was also included as part of a layoff due to budget cutbacks.

    2. Then they can't claim that they didn't fire him. He was shown the door at a time when others were, but there was a reason for it.


  2. In the eyes of the godless, it is religious people who are dogmatic. Perhaps some are, and perhaps there's nothing inherently wrong with dogma. I would expect that some action be taken against a priest who preached un-Catholic or anti-Catholic ideas from the pulpit. If he wants to do that he's free to do so, in another church of another denomination.

    But can't the godless crowd at least admit that they have their own brand of dogma? Can't they admit that they're more aggressive in enforcing it than most churches?


  3. I think I'm going to come to Egnor's university, and during his classes I'm going to stand up and harangue him about why Catholicism is morally corrupt. And he can't stop me, because I have free speech, right?

    Egnor understands the principle of free speech the way he understands evolutionary biology. That is to say, he doesn't understand it at all. There's a reason this blog is called Egnorance.

    I'm really glad Egnor is getting on the Coppedge bandwagon, because Coppedge is about to lose big time. Just go read accounts of the case in the Pasadena newspapers.

  4. Anonymous,

    Your comparison is stupid. He wasn't fired for interrupting other people over and over again.

    He wasn't fired at all, remember? He was "laid off".


  5. Also, Anonymous,

    The shouting someone down is not free speech. I agree with you there. Not that it has anything to do with the gentleman who was fired, er I mean, laid off, but you're right.

    I would, however, like to invite you to my alma mater, a large public university in the Northeast. Shouting down conservative speakers is pretty much the norm. The hecklers have made it literally impossible to have any discussion of the issues. They prefer monologue to dialogue. It's been going on since at least 1970.

    And they absolutely always defend their right to do so by saying that it's their First Amendment right.

    If you disagree, that's great. But do you find it at all interesting that they are never punished? Can we both agree that that kind of thuggery has no place at a university? In other words, do you condemn it?

    By the way, is this the same anonymous who's the lawyer? Are you the one who told me that the 26th Amendment, which guarantees suffrage to persons of at least eighteen years, could possibly be interpreted to mean twenty-one years?


  6. Michael,

    The CNN link comes from the 'Belief' section of the website, not the science or legal sections (if they have one) from 13 March. There's already over 2,000 comments.

    I suspect that the court will decide that his demotion and termination were justified. He wasn't a scientist or academic with tenure. He was a systems administrator on the Cassini project.

    If he thinks that Cassini, even in part, was to investigate the origins of the universe, detect life elsewhere in the universe or even to detect conditions suitable for life elsewhere in the universe, then he's a fool, and deserved to be terminated. He doesn't have a clue as to the aims of the Cassini mission, surprising for someone who is supposed to have played such a pivotal role in its success.

    Cassini was of course designed to investigate the mechanics of the Saturn system. Without landing on its moons, it's impossible to exclude for example extremophiles in liquid methane on Titan for example, let alone what the conditions are in the remainder of the universe.

    1. Also, I forgot to ask you why you think that his superiors or coworkers at JPL were atheists?

      I thought that one of your major points was that atheists are such an insignificant minority.

    2. "I forgot to ask you why you think that his superiors or coworkers at JPL were atheists?"

      Don't you know? Anyone who would meet Egnor's definition of "not an atheist" would be happy to have a coworker giving them the light of truth by spending all day telling them about intelligent design.

    3. What exactly was Cassini for then, Bach.
      For that matter what is any of the unmanned or manned space program for?
      To take pretty pictures? For WHAT?
      Make a map that has been fairly accurate for 50 years more accurate so that the next probe can do a more accurate flyby and make a better map?
      News flash, we don't need anything as advanced as Cassini to bounce signals of a Gas giant and it's moons.

      That must be why Columbus, Cook and co took to the high seas, eh? To make sure the maps they had were accurate and to 'observe' with no purpose other than observation. Slack jawed, nihilistic, and utterly randomly they just floated around until they found some bread plants or mangos.
      Discovery life sciences, signs of life, origins (cosmological data) etc are the mission of NASA. They catalogue data for EXACTLY those purposes.

      God! Sometimes your just SO utterly devoid of common sense.
      You call him a fool for describing the ENTIRE space program for what it is!
      You don't think that when they say 'explore' that they mean they are looking for signs of life, habitability, or clues/patterns that can be applied to cosmology? They 'just sent it', I guess.
      The old 'shit happens' theory applied to space exploration.
      If I - or MILLIONS like me- thought for a millisecond that NASA and the various civilian space programs of the West were simply shooting things in space for the sheer hell of it, I would be arguing for MASSIVE cuts. I would want us, our investors, our tech OUT. So would tens if not hundreds of millions of Americans.
      I would write a letter to ask our government to cut ALL involvement in the various programs we work with NASA (robotics, solid rockets, propulsion, and the various classified systems).
      Luckily for NASA and this guy, they DO have interesting mission parameters.
      Both the "Equinox Mission" and the secondary "Solstice Mission" are multifaceted studies that INCLUDE the indicators and data required broaden the knowledge in areas you suggest makes him a 'fool' for suggesting.

      "Also, I forgot to ask you why you think that his superiors or coworkers at JPL were atheists?"
      Because 'atheists' are so arrogant and intolerant that they are oft 'offended' by any sort of suggestion of teleology, order, purpose, or meaning - let alone a God.
      Anyone else is merely interested or not. They would either enjoy a chat on faith (as they have their own), or would politely decline.
      Who else 'unblesses' a highway, sues schools, asks for war memorials to be removed or changed to secular bullshit, screams down alternate mechanistic hypotheticals of biology as if it were a rape, and suffers from general collective histrionics as a reaction to culture with and to such a degree?
      Well, anyone else except mythical monsters, Satanists, and madmen.
      I think we can count out that their is a Satanic Coven at JPL and I would imagine the only monsters at JPL are in accounting....
      That leaves the Atheists.

    4. "Because 'atheists' are so arrogant and intolerant that they are oft 'offended' by any sort of suggestion of teleology, order, purpose, or meaning - let alone a God."

      Its good to see you playing to your strengths and opining on things you know nothing about, since it is clear you haven't read anything about the case in question. Coppege did far more than make "suggestions", and his coworkers have said that when they tried to "politely decline" Coppege didn't respect their wishes.

    5. "If I - or MILLIONS like me- thought for a millisecond that NASA and the various civilian space programs of the West were simply shooting things in space for the sheer hell of it, I would be arguing for MASSIVE cuts. I would want us, our investors, our tech OUT."

      So you think blue sky science is completely useless? Here, let Brian Cox explain why you are wrong.

    6. Anon(1),
      Why don't you go talk a nice long walk off a short pier?
      All you do is attack the commenter with statements like "opining on things you know nothing about".
      Are we to assume you are an philosophical or physical student of teleology? A JPL engineer? An expert on this case?
      You're just making a comment on a couple of articles you have read (I blogged on it last week, and have been trying to keep up). So what are your special qualifications on this case? NONE. Your just another person with an opinion: JUST LIKE ME!
      The difference between us is that I can actually wrap my mind around his complaint. You REFUSE to even consider it.

    7. Anon(2),
      Not sure if you're the same troll, as neither of you have signed your posts.
      I will give you the benefit of doubt and attempt to answer your question:
      "So you think blue sky science is completely useless?"
      No. I think it is the same type of spin we put on military projects all the time.
      I think that assuming there is no purpose to these vehicles and probes other than to see if they work is contrary to common sense.
      Here's why:
      I frequently work at an installation that is in part a DND defence testing base. That's R&D.
      We do all sorts of cutting edge stuff on site. It ranges from reverse engineering of captured technology (some of it DECADES old) to scifi style contracts. Some of the stuff our guys have been working on for years is just making the news now. Others will remain quiet for a long time to come, I suspect.
      I am not an engineer or a civilian science advisor, but I hold the same clearance, eat lunch, play cards, surf, and even go to the pub with some of these men and women.
      I am in part responsible for their security and making sure they 'behave'.
      I also have members of the family who work for companies like Spar and Lockhead. I know people from DARPA who frequently visit the range.
      That said, I KNOW damn well they do not design a multi-billion dollar inter-planetary vehicle replete with the latest and most durable arrays of detection devices to do 'whatever'.
      They are designed within parameters and with the INTENT of gathering data that would promote further exploration. That means TARGETS and GOALS before the craft ever leaves the drawing board phase.
      Let's use a low/old tech analogy.
      A man sails from Spain in the late 15th century across the Western Ocean. he is by trade a cartographer. His interest is in mapping a route to the far east and is unaware of the American landmasses. Does he leave with a ship load of cartographers? No he takes carpenters, doctors, scientists, linguists, and historians to name but a few. When he gets there does he simply map the area? No he prospects for gold, contacts the locals, and attempts to colonize the region.
      He needs to bring something back to his Queen that will justify further exploration.
      The high tech missions of NASA are NO different, save that the crews are increasingly replaced by mechanical components and the distances far more extreme.
      They may not know EXACTLY what they are looking for, but they know that only beneficial or highly interesting results will justify further missions.
      Simple logic.
      Obviously they will attempt to soften the ever increasing blows to their budget with talk of 'exploratory spirit' and 'blue sky' stuff. How else can they justify the almost TOTAL lack of productive and realistic results since the Apollo missions?
      Biological results from Mars or Titan would change all that. The medical and scientific value of such data would be USEFUL, or at least potentially so. Rare minerals and their properties would also be USEFUL. As would indications of a region suitable for a base of operations (ie Mars).
      This is the 'gold' and 'spice' the NASA project seeks while it soothes a growing impatience within the establishment (who just cut the manned programs) and public who feel their could be better use of these truly MASSIVE amounts of funding.
      To suggest an engineer working on such a project is a 'fool' for indicating what some of these projected goals are is FOOLISH in itself.

  7. Replies
    1. "The trial is not going Coppedge's way."

      Of course it isn't. If Egnor backed the winning side in a case he couldn't clutch his pearls hysterically and claim victimhood.

    2. The Pasadena area Media has ALWAYS been beholden to JPL. It is a big employer. I lived in the immediate area for several years on and off (La Cañada , La Crescenta and Pasadena proper), and am quite familiar with reverence that place is treated with by local media. Besides what do you EXPECT the JPL lawyer to say?
      Spin, spin, spin.

    3. "Besides what do you EXPECT the JPL lawyer to say?"

      If you had read the article, you'd have noticed that Coppege agreed with the JPL attorney. From the article:

      Coppedge said his own notes from the meeting confirmed the topic had been raised.

      “He reported that members of my own team had expressed the same concerns, that I appeared too opinionated or unwilling to listen,” said Coppedge.

      But keep opining on subjects you know nothing about. It is so very convincing.

    4. Crus,

      It's not just what the JPL lawyer said. Fact is, Coppedge had to agree with what the lawyer said.

      Coppedge had to agree that he had not been a good coworker. He has no case. Have you seen the briefs his lawyer filed? It contains a play reinterpreting events from Coppedge's viewpoint. These are the guys who spin, not the JPL.

    5. Oleg,
      I would hardly say that saying something is out of context or is 'spin' counts as any sort of admission. That is merely journalistic license being shown toward a favoured institution that employs many local people.
      As for how the case will go? I am sure they will deny Coppedge's claims.
      Not only are government run facilities like JPL playing with a loaded deck (they can pull the 'secrecy ace'), they are publicly funded.
      Suing them is NEVER popular and a decision in his favour would rock the boat way too much.
      Truly, I think the best he could hope for now is a settlement of some sort in return for his silence on the issue. Even that is fleeting as the media attention grows.
      The real question is do I believe his side of the story. Yes, from what I have read and the people in those fields I have personal experience with - I see his as a completely realistic complaint.

    6. Of course, crus. The entire case is a government conspiracy aimed at establishing the new world order. Coppedge's lawyer is a secret member of the CFR. He is obviously sabotaging his case.

    7. Oleg,
      I see.
      If I think it is possible for a secularist to be overbearing and intolerant, or an institution to be insulated and capable of malice then I must be imagining a plot by the 'Illuminati' or whatever.

      We all know how completely GOOD, PURE, and PERFECT that all such people are by their nature (pedigree or breeding perhaps?).
      We also know that government lawyers are all honest, innocent, and good people too.

  8. For the record, I would like to say that I am completely opposed to ALL anti-discrimination laws.

    I just find it interesting that the definition of discrimination is so broad whenever the person suing is of a truly protected class--racial minorities, homosexuals, etc, while being so narrow when the person is a Christian.

    I also find it quite telling that the usual suspects usually take the accusation of discrimination at face value whenever the person suing belongs to one of those groups, preferring not to believe the employer being sued. When the person is a Christian, the roles are reversed. "But the employer said that he was stubborn! The employer said that he was difficult to get along with!" If the person involved were of any other group, wouldn't you dismiss these as pretexts? Which side would you be on, and which side's arguments would you be working so feverishly to rebuff?


    1. "I just find it interesting that the definition of discrimination is so broad whenever the person suing is of a truly protected class--racial minorities, homosexuals, etc, while being so narrow when the person is a Christian."

      Well said, J.Q. I would also note that their definition of free exercise of religion basically includes nothing, while their definition of establishment of religion is an all purpose tool that can mean whatever they want in a given situation.

      Remember this one? Senior citizens having a meal at the senior center are told that federal guidelines prohibit saying grace before meals because the cost is being subsidized with federal dollars.

      But they're not anti-religion!


  9. I also think it's permissible to fire someone--a lawyer perhaps, who works for the federal government--simply for spending all day on the internet while he's supposed to be doing work. I think the fact that he posts lengthy screeds on this website, nearly always during normal business hours, would make a convincing case that he's really a lazy ass and that he's bilking the taxpayer. That's a fireable offense, right?


    1. Sure....
      As long as you leave out the serving officer who writes screeds on his lunch break, and down time; and who thereby covers his issued (crappy) old linux box and 'desk' with crumbs and bits of egg and mayo :P
      (ie ME)