Sunday, March 18, 2012

Freedom of religion or harassment?

Church miceThere has been all kinds of political craziness going on in the past week, some of it frustrating, some of it horrifying, and some of it just so batshit crazy you have to laugh. I’ve about had my fill of talking about Limbo and Palin, I laughed myself silly over Mittens’ newfound love of grits, and I need a break from Santorum’s unrelenting march towards Armageddon, so instead of any of that, I’m going to talk about a current court case that I’m interested in and watching closely.

David Coppedge was a scientist working at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, which operates at Cal Tech in Pasadena. Coppedge was terminated last year, and JPL maintains that he was part of a large layoff involving about 300 employees. Mr. Coppedge disagrees, and has filed a lawsuit saying that he was treated unfairly and terminated because of his views on religion and intelligent design in particular. (For CNN’s report on it, click here, and for a short piece from MSNBC, click here. They will give you a better grasp of the details.)

From what I can tell, Mr. Coppedge was indeed part of a large layoff, and although I don’t know JPL’s policies on seniority and termination, it seems that there had been problems with him before. Coworkers had complained many times about his discussions (apparently on work time--I think that part is key) with them concerning his religions views. He tried get them to watch videos promoting intelligent design, he debated religious topics with them, and he expressed his support for California’s Prop 8, which would define marriage as between a man and a woman. It seems that he received numerous verbal warnings, and one would presume that he also received written warnings; at the very least, I’m sure his verbal warnings were noted in his file.

Coppedge alleges in his suit that he was wrongfully terminated due to religious discrimination. JPL, of course, denies that, and says that Coppedge is the one who created a hostile work environment for his coworkers.

I suppose this does tie in a bit with the current right winger talk of the Obama Administration’s “war on religion.” This alleged war is complete nonsense, but it speaks to this strange persecution complex that we’re seeing from quite a few far right Christians these days. No one is trying to tell you that you can’t practice your religion in whatever way trips your trigger. Heck, go to church eight days a week if that’s what you need. I’m not stopping you.
No one is stopping you.

But here’s the thing: Mr. Coppedge has his right to his views on religion or on anything else. He can even state them in the workplace if JPL’s policies allow such things (many places do not allow discussion of religious or political topics during work time)...if he does not make others uncomfortable and if he does not use valuable work time to do so. As far as I’m concerned (I’m no lawyer, so I do not know all the technicalities of the law...I’ve heard there are a few, though.), his rights to religious expression stop when others’ rights to a productive and non-hostile workplace are violated. I would imagine that his views on Prop 8 could have made any gay coworkers feel harassed, and his frequent proselytizing would certainly have made me feel harassed. The fact that numerous complaints were filed leads me to believe that this was a chronic problem, and Mr. Coppedge refused to follow his supervisor’s edicts to stop doing this during work time.

If someone kept coming at me about this during work, I would definitely have a problem with it. First, I would say something to them and ask them to stop. (Although it would probably come out more like, “Don’t you have work to do? I sure do, and I think we should both get busy.”) If they didn’t stop, I would definitely go to my manager about it. I would find it disruptive to my concentration and to the work, and frankly, I would find religious proselytizing in the workplace to be inappropriate.

The CNN article states that “Coppedge claims he never forcibly compelled colleagues to accept his idea of intelligent design in the workplace.” Well, obviously you can’t force someone to believe the way you want them to believe; but the constant badgering in trying to get them to believe it is what constitutes harassment. It would be like trying to defend sexual harassment by saying, “Well, I never forcibly compelled her to have sex with me.” Perhaps not, but in the meantime, you probably made her work environment pretty damn miserable, didn’t you?

I’m watching this lawsuit to see what happens. I am genuinely curious to see if Coppedge and his lawyers will manage to convince the judge that he was fired unfairly. Since he was counseled several times on this and did not comply, I honestly don’t see how he can win this lawsuit. To add to the fun, the Discovery Institute, an organization that has tried for years to get intelligent design into the classroom, has taken an interest in the case (although I don’t know if they are committing any legal resources to it), as have other organizations promoting intelligent design and creationism (although I don’t know why I use ‘and,’ because they are one and the same).

This really is not a religious issue. It’s a workplace issue, and it’s about the concept of a healthy work environment for all. Mr. Coppedge did not contribute to a healthy work environment.

End o’ story.


  1. Too many times Christians try to do the work of the Holy Spirit. It's his job to convict and convince, not ours. ~ Barbara

  2. I couldn't agree more with you on this Beth. Politics and religion doesn't belong in the workplace. (Hugs)Indigo

  3. I think that you nailed it when you mentioned the 'persecution complex' among the faithful... after all, most of their doomsday scenarios involve some kind of hocus-pocus involving good people of faith and their way of life being overwhelmed or something...

    They might be right... because if an a**hole like that was loose where I worked, he may find himself being 'overwhelmed' by left hooks..!

  4. Mr. Coppedge, and other [fanatics] like him are simply doing The Lord's work, because apparently The Almighty isn't mighty enough to do it Himself.

  5. some people just think the rules don't apply to them...


  6. The world needs to rid itself of Christianity and all the other cults.

    1. Type "darwin killed god" in the google search box.
    2. Click the I'm Feeling Lucky button.


    David Coppedge blogs at:

    Creation Evolution Headlines

    Stretching Credibility in Evolutionary Stories

    Baloney Detector

    Slaughter of the Dissidents
    by Dr. Jerry Bergman

  8. i JUST got the joke in your header cartoon...


  9. Far right Christians believe they are saving and do not realize that others take offense to that, whether they are religious or not. I can see this expanding into Catholic vs. Presbyterian, and others as well. Keep it out of the work place.

  10. I am a spiritual person, and I certainly don't mind talking about my beliefs to anyone who asks me about them. I'll even instigate a conversation with the right person at the right time and under the right circumstances. But it's wrong to be pushy, especially at work, and especially when you've been warned about it. I don't think this man has much chance of winning his suit.


I'm funny how, I mean funny like I'm a clown, I amuse you?