The Coppedge Case: A Study in Tactics and Strategy

THIS is a case study of the legal and propaganda techniques of the neo-theocrats at the Discovery Institute’s Center for Science and Culture (a/k/a the Discoveroids).

You already know that the Discoveroids are championing the cause of David Coppedge, who claims he was wrongfully demoted by his employer for promoting Intelligent Design on the job. He works for Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL), a federally funded research firm that is also a NASA contractor. See our recent post: Another Creationist Is “Expelled”.

In that post we quoted a Discoveriod article saying: “Coppedge is represented by Los Angeles First Amendment attorney William J. Becker, Jr., of The Becker Law Firm.” They also informed us that “[Casey] Luskin serves as a consultant to the Coppedge lawsuit.” So we have a Luskin-Becker connection.

Until some website archives the pleadings and makes them available, if you want to see the court documents in the Coppedge case you’ll have to pay a small fee to the court clerks here: Superior Court of California, Los Angeles. At the box for “Case Number” you need to enter BC435600. But some minimal information is available for free — the names of the parties and their lawyers. That’s not much, but it confirms what we learned from the Discoveroids. In the case of DAVID COPPEDGE VS JET PROPULSION LABORATORY ET AL, the Attorney for Plaintiff is BECKER, WILLIAM J ESQ.

One of our commenters (code name “rubble”) pointed out that Mr. Becker is also representing the plaintiff in another case being championed by the Discoveroids, about which we’ve been writing: the “Darwin’s Dilemma” Lawsuit. You can see his name on the complaint in the “Darwin’s Dilemma” lawsuit by clicking on this pdf file which is archived by our friends at the National Center for Science Education.

Who is Becker? We found this listing of his firm. It has a picture of the man. From the description of his practice, it appears to us that he’s mostly a personal injury and workers’ comp lawyer. Now he seems to be the Discoveroids’ “go to” man in Los Angeles. Fair enough.

It’s interesting to see how the Discoveroids are promoting this litigation. What would normally be an unimportant suit filed by a disgruntled employee is getting quite a bit of publicity. It’s been picked up by WorldNetDaily, a journalistic organ about which we’ve written several times before. See: Buffoon Award Winner — WorldNetDaily. Here’s their write-up on the Coppedge case: NASA lab accused of crackdown on intelligent design. It’s essentially a re-hash of the original Discoveroid post.

And here’s a public relations outfit,, that informs the world how to Submit your PR for free! Their website carries a similar write-up to the one at WorldNetDaily: Discrimination Lawsuit Filed Against NASA’s Jet Propulsion Lab for Harassing and Demoting Supporter.

Here’s yet another public relations website, PR Newswire, with pretty much the same story: Discrimination Lawsuit Filed Against NASA’s Jet Propulsion Lab for Harassing and Demoting Supporter of Intelligent Design.

Aside from those public relations tactics, we think there’s some new strategy involved here. As we mentioned before in The Goal of the “Darwin’s Dilemma” Lawsuit:

We suspect that the Discoveroids’ game has morphed again. Now the plan is to use the Bill of Rights — as leftists have done for the last couple of generations with spectacular success — to wedge their way into the media, academia, and ultimately into the law of the land. To do that they need court precedents establishing the “right” to promote their nonsense in all public facilities. The California Science Center happens to be a convenient target.


See how the game is being played? The claim is that creationists — and presumably astrologers, flat-earthers, moon-landing deniers, etc. — have a constitutional right to spew their nonsense at all governmental facilities. In due course that “right” will be pushed in the schools.

The Coppedge case appears to confirm the existence of this new approach being deployed by the Discoveroids — an innovation in the tireless pursuit of their wedge strategy. It may even be replacing their “Teach the Controversy” line, which hasn’t accomplished anything for them. In fact, this new strategy may be more ambitious than we first thought.

[Addendum: This new Discoveroid post lists several other cases involving their version of free speech: JPL Discrimination Lawsuit Next In Long String Of Free-Speech On Evolution Controversies. Besides the cases we’ve mentioned, they include the Guillermo Gonzalez tenure denial affair at Iowa State University in 2006, the peer review scandal involving Stephen Meyer and Richard von Sternberg, plus an even older controversy from 2005 at the University of Idaho.]

This is how it looks to us: The First Amendment’s establishment clause has, so far, prevented the religious doctrines of creationism and Intelligent Design from being promoted in public school science classes. Now the Discoveroids are attempting to use the First Amendment’s free speech guarantee to protect advocates of creationism in their private employment. But the First Amendment only prevents the government from “abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press” — not private firms or organizations.

The Coppedge case is a clever vehicle to use as a wedge. JPL’s status as a private employer is ambiguous. It’s managed and operated by the California Institute of Technology, does research for NASA, and enjoys government funding. It’s not your typical private enterprise, but it’s a good place to use as a precedent for the Discoveroids’ version of free speech.

It will be interesting to see if the Discoveroids get anywhere with this strange claim of an employee’s “freedom to promote creationism” in the workplace. We doubt that they’ll be successful; but it’s interesting that they’re branching out, as it were. It seems to be an acknowledgment that “Teach the Controversy” has been a failure.

Update: See Update: David Coppedge vs. JPL (19 Apr 2010).

Copyright © 2010. The Sensuous Curmudgeon. All rights reserved.

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10 responses to “The Coppedge Case: A Study in Tactics and Strategy

  1. I wonder if there’s a way to get him for promoting incompetence on the job. Well, if this is the DI’s new strategy, will they at least stop wasting time with their nonsensical proposed legislation? It’ll be interesting to see if this downward spiral in antievolution bills is a blip or a trend – four states total has to be a new low.

  2. James F says: “four states total has to be a new low.”

    Their strategy so far has been a catastrophic failure. Their plucky comeback after Dover was a two-pronged program which climaxed in 2008. It consisted of: (1) their assault on state legislatures with their “academic freedom” bills; and (2) hoped-for popular support generated by Ben Stein movie. Except for Louisiana — the booby prize, they accomplished nothing. That’s why I think these lawsuits represent a whole new effort.

  3. No public pronunciation from PJL yet?

    Well, maybe they do not even know that this thing is being publicized that much.

  4. In addition to getting his old job back, seeking damages and being made fire-proof, Coppedge petitions the following:

    “A permanent injunction against Defendants, their officers, agents, servants, employees, attorneys, and successors in office, and those persons in active concert or participation with them, from enforcing policies or engaging in practices, customs, acts or omissions that infringe upon the right of Plaintiff and others to engage in protected speech activity, including and specifically as it relates to discussing and distributing literature and DVDs concerning the theory of Intelligent Design;”

    According to the DI, Coppedge is “on the board” of Illustra Media who distributes the DVD’s. The DI doesn’t specify on what “board” Coppedge is on, board of directors, advisory board, technical board; who knows. However, Coppedge has a vested interest, a conflict of interest I would say, in getting the ID DVD’s distributed.

    Typical sneaky creationist.

  5. If that petition is accurate its a worrying thing. A fellow worker would not even tell him “Please stop, I am not interested in listening to you”

    All his fellow workers will have to listen to him give sermons, when he fancies, and all protected by this petition.

  6. Flakey says: “If that petition is accurate its a worrying thing.”

    It’s a creationist’s fantasy.

  7. I downloaded the complaint from “rubble” s link and it’s accurate OK.

    We’ve seen this time and again that people who get sucked into creationism, and Coppedge was way, way deep into it, just check out creationsafaris, his postings on creationist websites, etc, lose all sense of proportion and their jobs and lives become secondary to their delusion.

    HR is very specific and proscribed about how they do things. The Coppster is going to have a difficult time proving “persecution.”

  8. retiredsciguy

    Flakey: “All his fellow workers will have to listen to him give sermons, when he fancies, and all protected by this petition.”

    Which is why any rational judge will throw it out. The employer needs to be able to tell employees to “Quit yakkin’ and get back to work!”

    Now, if the judge is an irrational creationist himself, well…

  9. Who is this Becher guy, how can I attack him so he looks bad to myself, The Sensuous Curmudgeon plots out for this posting…

    His speech in general is not what this case is about, his demotion is. In the workplace, on company time or should I say “taxpayers” time speech outside of the working element may be restricted. That is right, he could be talking about designing a bookcase or a car or worshiping Darwin’s mother during working hours and get in trouble for it.

    It doesn’t matter what he said, it’s when he said it! I suspect the trouble started from a third party who got scared of DVDs which favored intelligent design being distributed to an interested party in the workplace. From there it was his conversations in general.

    If he complied to stop talking about ID while working, there is no grounds for demotion. Also, there is nothing they can do to him that is legal on breaks or lunch time. If he wants to talk about God to your dislike, he can do it legally, it’s his time. You get my drift? This is not attacking anyone like this lame blog does with it’s irrational assumptions based on mere bias rather it’s presenting the facts as we know them!