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NASA The Courts Science

JPL Employee's Firing Wasn't Due To Intelligent Design Advocacy, Says Judge 477

Posted by Soulskill
from the does-not-play-well-with-others dept.
SternisheFan writes with an update to a story from earlier this year about a lawsuit in which David Coppedge alleged he was fired from NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory for his advocacy of Intelligent Design. Now, a judge has ruled that Coppedge was legitimately dismissed for performance reasons. From the article: "n 2009, he apparently got a bit aggressive about promoting these ideas at work, leading one employee to complain. The resulting investigation found that he had also aggressively promoted his opinion on California's gay marriage ban, and had attempted to get JPL's holiday party renamed to 'Christmas party.' ... Coppedge was warned about his behavior at work, but he felt it was an infringement of his religious freedom, so he sued. Shortly after, as part of a set of cutbacks on the Cassini staff, he was fired. In court, Coppedge and his lawyer portrayed him as being targeted for promoting an idea that is, to put it mildly, not popular with scientists. But JPL's legal team introduced evidence that his aggressive promotion of it at work was part of a pattern of bad interactions with his fellow employees that dated back at least five years earlier."
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JPL Employee's Firing Wasn't Due To Intelligent Design Advocacy, Says Judge

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  • First (Score:0, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Saturday November 03, 2012 @12:27PM (#41865033)

    Religious people are fucking stupid, delusional idiots anyway.

    -- Ethanol-fueled

  • by sribe (304414) on Saturday November 03, 2012 @12:33PM (#41865097)

    An advocate of Intelligent Design who wasn't competent to work in a scientific organization? I'm SHOCKED!

    OK, your sarcasm is on point, but... I wonder... Think about this: is it possible that the level of aggressive misbehavior exhibited by this person was fueled by cognitive dissonance? Was he trying to convince his coworkers or himself?

    (Either way, firing him was the right thing to do and he deserves whatever mockery and sarcasm we can dish out.)

  • Re:First (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Oroka (1644579) on Saturday November 03, 2012 @12:55PM (#41865281)
    But Einstein was not a fanatic trying to force his believes on others. Religion is fine if kept polite. The bible states 'neither cast ye your pearls before swine'. Dont waste your time on those not willing to listen. Freedom of religion is fine, freedom of speech is great. You dont walk into the center of the opposing opinion and start shoving your ideas down their throats and expect open arms and high fives. Bible thumpers can be a bit nuts, but atheists can be equally nuts. JPL justly fired a nut.
  • by sideslash (1865434) on Saturday November 03, 2012 @12:57PM (#41865293)
    Let's suppose that somebody at JPL was promoting atheism, complained that the Christmas party should be renamed to the Holiday party, and suggested that California allow gay marriage. Would that be offensive as well? Be careful about piling on with "serves him right" when somebody is fired for what amounts to political incorrectness in the workplace. Without more detail I am skeptical of the accusations that he was "too aggressive" with this stuff or that it was a serious dereliction of his job. In my experience, many atheists are offended even by any public display of personal religious belief and practice, or any religious people engaging in discussion with others about it. They think religious people should be forced to maintain an appearance of secular belief when in public places, which is actually absurd and offensive in its own way.

    As a religious person who works professionally with a diverse bunch of colleagues, I have experienced offensive pushing of personal beliefs from atheists much more often than from religious colleagues. And frankly, it's my habit to just smile and get along. I don't think my colleagues should be fired for promoting atheism, gay marriage, abortion, or what have you.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday November 03, 2012 @12:57PM (#41865299)

    Is this what you would have told gay and lesbian co-workers 20 years ago?

    Defending the rights of those you disagree with is the hallmark of true freedom loving people. Its pretty clear "bad interactions" as the reason for firing him was based on the fact a lot of folks disliked him because of his personal religious beliefs - we call this sort of behavior discrimination.

    Having beliefs, opinions, a personal life is one thing. Getting harassed for those beliefs is discrimination and should be avoided.

    Harassing your co-workers with your beliefs is also to be avoided. This fellow was fired for a pattern of harassing his co-workers, a pattern he was asked to avoid, which he refused to do. The firing was justified.

    It doesn't matter what those beliefs were, it is the harassment that was the reason for the firing.

  • by damienl451 (841528) on Saturday November 03, 2012 @01:01PM (#41865335)

    Never doubt the ability that people have to compartmentalize their thinking. You can actually have a lot of technical skills, and even a lot of science knowledge, yet hold fairly bizarre views that are directly contradicted by the evidence that you know. It's kinda hard to do if you actually have to use the principles that directly contradict your beliefs (i.e., you usually won't find young-earth creationists doing research in evolutionary biology), but most scientific fields are broad enough that you can easily specialize in something that won't threaten your bizarre beliefs.

  • by Jessified (1150003) on Saturday November 03, 2012 @01:10PM (#41865389)

    Also, could a religious organization not fire someone who is promoting ideas contrary to the church? Why should a secular organization have to tolerate religious fanaticism if a religious organization does not have to tolerate other views?

  • by nine932038 (1934132) on Saturday November 03, 2012 @01:10PM (#41865393)

    If you're a religious person, would religious colleagues push their opinions on you?

    Agreed with you on the other point, but one caveat: you're at work to work, not to preach. At some point, common courtesy indicates that a subject be dropped. Otherwise it's disruptive to everyone.

  • Re:First (Score:4, Insightful)

    by microbox (704317) on Saturday November 03, 2012 @01:13PM (#41865419)

    Yes, Christians post his picture and a quote about knowing God on facebook all the time.

    Made-up quote you mean.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday November 03, 2012 @01:15PM (#41865431)

    It's called confirmation bias. You don't experience other religious people pushing their personal beliefs because when another religious persons says something like "god guided me to a solution," you think, "yes, god is good." But when a non-religious person says, "there is no god, we have to do this on our own," you think, "wow, pushy!"

    And yes, if a coworker spends a lot of time promoting religous or political issues at work, I want them to stop, even if I agree with them. I'm there to work, not to debate philosophy or current events. And if this goes on for years, with management asking them to stop, then they should be on the short list. Even if I agree 100% with what they say.

    I may not agree with you, and I will defend your right to speak your mind, but in an appropriate forum. Not in department meetings, not in team meetings, not when I'm trying to focus on my job.

  • Re:First (Score:5, Insightful)

    by LordLimecat (1103839) on Saturday November 03, 2012 @01:16PM (#41865447)

    Im still not really clear why anyone should care about the religious beliefs of Newton or Einstein.

  • by MightyMartian (840721) on Saturday November 03, 2012 @01:17PM (#41865459) Journal

    It wasn't his personal religious beliefs, it was the fact he wouldn't keep them personal. No employee, not even a government employee has an absolute right to proselytize at work. You are requires to maintain standards of decorum and behaviour, and if there are repeated complaints by coworkers and warnings from management you will likely end up being fired.

  • by TheGratefulNet (143330) on Saturday November 03, 2012 @01:21PM (#41865499)

    As a religious person who works professionally with a diverse bunch of colleagues, I have experienced offensive pushing of personal beliefs from atheists much more often than from religious colleagues.

    insert pic of 'help, help, we're being repressed!' here.

    you folks have been the VERY vocal majority since, well, the beginning of your religion. don't you think its fair that others get to try to balance the scales just a wee bit?

    right, its an attack on christianity. knew you'd be thinking that, if not saying it.

    for 10's of centuries, its been a life-risking thing to even admit you are not part of the 'mainstream' religion. for once, this era and this country is finally allowing some open dissent.

    just shut up and realize that you have been the oppressor for way too long. those of us would like the public to know about alternatives. and we don't (usually) have to fear for our lives anymore for having such views.

  • by Ogive17 (691899) on Saturday November 03, 2012 @01:27PM (#41865549)
    If the person is being an asshole and combative about it, yes.

    Maybe you're in a different part of the country. I'm in Ohio, we get people trying to shove religion down our throat every day. I can't imagine having to live somewhere in the actual Bible belt....

    I'm not going to trounce on anyone's beliefs but when you get up in front of the entire office (around 120 people) and ask people to pray for you because a home inspector is coming to your house this afternoon representing the potential buyers... well, you can just shut the fuck up. I'm sure as hell not going to waste any prayers on a greedy asshat like that.

    But I digress... if the office is going to remain a professional environment, politics and religion really should stay out of it.
  • by MightyMartian (840721) on Saturday November 03, 2012 @01:27PM (#41865553) Journal

    They tolerate Behe at Lehigh University. He does his job, and does not misuse his academic position to further his private aims within the confines of the University. Firing him because of his belief in ID would be wrong.

  • by Livius (318358) on Saturday November 03, 2012 @01:31PM (#41865569)

    Was he trying to convince his coworkers or himself?

    Himself. Exactly the same as everyone else who "believes" in Intelligent Design.

  • by MacTO (1161105) on Saturday November 03, 2012 @01:31PM (#41865577)

    Let's try to keep facts straight. The articles that I have read did not bring his professional competence into question. His professional competence would only be an issue if he was unable to perform his duties (due to his religious beliefs or otherwise).

    The issue was that his conduct in the workplace was interfering with the function of that workplace. If he said that he believed in intelligent design and left it at that, there probably wouldn't have been an issue. Yet he upped the ante by being aggressive about promoting those beliefs. Since the promotion of individual beliefs is outside the scope of most workplaces, it is outside the realm of religious freedoms.

  • by khasim (1285) <brandioch.conner@gmail.com> on Saturday November 03, 2012 @01:32PM (#41865579)

    The way I see it is that someone with a personal belief will try to get a measure of authority by earning a degree in a related field of science.

    Remember that getting a degree does NOT mean that you agree with the material. Only that you have mastered the material.

    Then they write books about their beliefs and make sure that their degree(s) are included in their author bio.

    Maybe they'll find a job with some real research firm or something. But that is a bit difficult after their first book is published and anyone looks up their name on Google.

  • Re:First (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Saturday November 03, 2012 @01:34PM (#41865589)

    When religious people try to back up their (bogus) scientific arguments, they like to cite religious scientists as if it the existence of scientists who are religious makes the arguments more compelling. "Famous scientist X was religious, so shouldn't you accept my religiously-motivated supposedly scientific arguments too?" It's basically an argument by authority.

    It's irrelevant, of course.

  • by wkcole (644783) on Saturday November 03, 2012 @01:35PM (#41865601)

    Where does it say he was incompetent? It says he was fired because he kept bothering other employees with his ideas.

    I know it violates /. tradition and may even be deemed "cheating," but there's at least one link in every /. post leading to a direct source article, which YOU CAN ACTUALLY READ ALL BY YOURSELF! In this case the referenced article links to another more detailed and specific AP article that details the bozo's workplace failure.

    It is worth noting that for support staff (in this case a "computer specialist" on the Cassini project) not being a nuisance to co-workers is a critical and fundamental job skill. So is maintaining the respect & trust of the people doing the core work of the organization. JPL was correct in providing evidence of Coppedge's bad attitude and workplace evangelism as part of the argument that he was cut for perfectly sound reasons. Working well with others is a perfectly legitimate job requirement and failing to do so is a competence issue in many jobs.

  • by erroneus (253617) on Saturday November 03, 2012 @02:03PM (#41865855) Homepage

    I'm saying those things just don't have any serious meaning. They did up until they basically polluted their religious practices with pagan practices.

    I'm just not threatened by these light-hearted holidays. Now if someone were to force me to attend church services? Yeah, I'd object. I'd break out into violence eventually.

    It's not harmful. It's even healthy at times. I have concerns about the over commercialization of the holidays... because you know, it's "the holidays" now and they all begin the very second Halloween is over. You wanna talk about what's bad? Let's talk about that. Let's talk about commerce as a cultural basis and what it's doing to people.

    Once again, "not religious" "am atheist" "not spiritual" or whatever. But I see a larger human spirit that is being crushed; Crushed by religion and politics and commerce and all that.

    I say keep the good, let go of the bad. Fanaticism is yet another -ism.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday November 03, 2012 @02:07PM (#41865897)

    I think it's a lot more likely that he was simply a aggressive, socially awkward guy who simply didn't know when to shut the fuck up about the things he was really "into". Not that much of a departure from fairly typical geek behavior, he just happened to be into a "hobby" that rubbed a lot of his fellow geeks the wrong way and they were less patient with.

    I have no sympathy for the guy, but I work with people like this who get nutty over their pet issues and drive me up the wall too - every one of you reading this probably know someone like this as well - and if you don't, you're probably the one everybody else in your workplace thinks of.

  • Re:Sharia law (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Black Parrot (19622) on Saturday November 03, 2012 @02:13PM (#41865961)

    The "War on Christmas" is actually a war on inclusive society. It exists only in the minds of people who feel persecuted if they aren't allowed force their ways on everyone else.

    Also, I would be willing to wager that the people screaming loudest about the (imagined) incorporation of Sharia into US law are the same people who are demanding loudest to have US law to force *their* religious scruples on the rest of us.

  • by PopeRatzo (965947) on Saturday November 03, 2012 @02:18PM (#41866015) Homepage Journal

    The only reason that people oppose abortion is because...

    You polled all of them? It's possible, you know, that people who oppose abortion do so because religious leaders have told them if they don't they'll go to Hell. It's possible they oppose abortion because their patriarchal viewpoint disdains women having sex without their father's approval. It's possible that they oppose abortion because they don't want women to have any control of her own body.

    You can say why you oppose abortion, LordLimecat, but don't try to tell us why "people oppose abortion".

  • by jkflying (2190798) on Saturday November 03, 2012 @02:39PM (#41866269)

    What I think what religious people don't get is that the non-religious people don't care what Einstein's views on religious were, because they don't need constant confirmation of their beliefs. Not running into god(s) every single day of their lives is enough.

  • Re:First (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Samantha Wright (1324923) on Saturday November 03, 2012 @02:57PM (#41866403) Homepage Journal
    Alchemy and occultism in Newton's sense meant "I'm a scientist but I don't know what science is." He wanted to understand the world, even though the methods for doing so weren't worked out very well yet. In an era when we didn't have any clue how causality actually worked, sometimes that meant entertaining bizarre notions which we know only in hindsight were superstitious.
  • Re:First (Score:2, Insightful)

    by artor3 (1344997) on Saturday November 03, 2012 @03:18PM (#41866581)

    If an atheist is claiming, as they often do, that religious people are all a bunch of idiots, then pointing to a famed religious scientist is absolutely a valid counterpoint.

  • by MightyMartian (840721) on Saturday November 03, 2012 @04:01PM (#41866965) Journal

    Yes I actually believe he was fired for being a dick and that some religious groups, just like you, are dishonestly trying to make it look like persecution.

  • by TheGratefulNet (143330) on Saturday November 03, 2012 @05:21PM (#41867555)

    Einstein rejected the label atheist, which he associated with certainty regarding God's nonexistence.

    even so 'short' a time ago as this, people were threatened (death threats and other, uhm, career-limiting things) if they did not go along with the mainstream religion.

    you cannot go by what someone says, if they felt fear for what might happen if they were honest.

    only very brave folks would dare admit that they were athiest.

    and back then, it was extremely uncommon to 'fess up' about your true feelings on this subject.

  • Re:First (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Barsteward (969998) on Saturday November 03, 2012 @05:54PM (#41867837)
    Atheism ! = Religion
  • Re:First (Score:5, Insightful)

    by BasilBrush (643681) on Saturday November 03, 2012 @08:06PM (#41868669)

    What makes you think a "present-day scientist" in any less superstitious than any other human? What makes you think the conclusions being reached today are not in fact stupid and wrong?

    The scientific method.

"Consistency requires you to be as ignorant today as you were a year ago." -- Bernard Berenson

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