Discovery Institute: Comer, Coppedge, & Casey

THERE are times when several apparently separate threads all come together into one revealing tapestry. Today we’ll consider the pattern presented by three such threads. The first comes from that group we consider to be Enemies of the Enlightenment — the neo-theocrats at the Discovery Institute’s Center for Science and Culture (a/k/a the Discoveroids). Our thoughts are never very far from their machinations.

The second is the case of David Coppedge vs. Jet Propulsion Laboratory — a suit by creationist David Coppedge, who claims he was wrongfully demoted by his employer because he was promoting Intelligent Design (ID) on the job.

The third is the recently-decided Christina Comer case. She had sued her employer, the Texas Education Agency (the “TEA”), alleging that she was fired merely because she forwarded an email announcing a talk by Dr. Barbara Forrest, who was to give a lecture that was critical of teaching ID in science classes. While Comer’s appeal was still pending, we said:

You might contrast this with the case of David Coppedge, who actively promoted creationism at JPL, and was only demoted. Comer was fired. And unlike JPL, Comer’s employer was unquestionably an agency of the state.

After Comer’s appeal was decided, we said:

[T]he injustice done to Comer is now a federal appellate court decision, so one can hope that the federal trial court in California that’s hearing the David Coppedge suit against JPL will apply the same standard of blind deference to the policies of an employer.

The way we see it, if — following an irrational policy of equating science and creationism — a state employee like Comer can legally be fired for an email about evolution, there should be no problem with a federal trial court’s deciding that there was nothing wrong with JPL’s merely demoting a computer technician for advocating creationism on the job.

What brings all of those separate threads together is a new article at the Discoveroid blog. It’s by Casey Luskin, everyone’s favorite creationist: Federal Appeals Court Rejects Chris Comer’s Lawsuit Alleging Discrimination Against Evolution. Casey’s article is a long smirking gloat about Comer’s appellate defeat. He says, with bold font added by us:

In 2007, Chris Comer was forced to resign from her job at the Texas Education Agency (TEA). She then filed a lawsuit alleging she was forced to “stay neutral on creationism,” and claimed that TEA’s “neutrality” policy violated the First Amendment.


Apparently this twisted, backwards understanding of First Amendment religious freedom is what drives Darwin lobbyists like Chris Comer.

We won’t dig into Casey’s understanding of the First Amendment — it’s not worth the effort. Besides, that’s not what drew us to his post today. Let’s read on and you’ll see what got our attention:

The court also observed that “[t]he record also reflects that the neutrality policy [on creationism and evolution] has been enforced across a variety of different curriculum issues subject to decision by the Board” — an important point since Comer had in fact violated TEA’s neutrality policy with respect to a number of curriculum decisions made by the Texas State Board of Education …

Perhaps so, and that would have been a weakness in Comer’s case. Or there may have been an institutional hostility to Comer, who was known to favor the theory of evolution. It’s useless to speculate, so we’ll merely point out that Casey assumes Comer was an all-round bad employee, and the TEA’s behavior was above reproach. We don’t know any of that, because there wasn’t a trial and so there was no opportunity to fully develop the facts.

As we continue with Casey’s triumphant post, we can almost see him shivering with ecstasy as he reviews some data that came out regarding Comer’s record of prior reprimands at the TEA. He says:

In case you weren’t keeping count, in the year leading up to her departure from the TEA, Comer was charged with insubordination on three separate occasions. Counting her full term at the TEA, she experienced eight separate disciplinary incidents — seven of which had nothing to do with evolution. The final incident — which did touch upon evolution — was just the proverbial straw that broke the camel’s back.


The reality is that Chris Comer appears to have been a difficult employee all along who continually offered her opinion on curricular matters where she was supposed to remain neutral.

Again, without a full trial where such matters would have been fully explored, we have no idea what that record of reprimands was all about. Maybe Comer really was a troublesome, irascible employee — a loose cannon who drove everyone around her crazy. Or maybe she was the lone supporter of good education, trapped in a hostile environment. It must be remembered that we’re dealing here with Texas. But Casey is pleased to assume that the facts were all against Comer.

Here’s more from near the end Casey’s article, as he presumes to give us the benefit of his Discoveroid creationist wisdom:

The moral of this story is this: Whether the case ultimately wins or loses in court, don’t speak out publicly on a case until you know the facts.

We appreciate Casey’s advice — for what it’s worth. But now let us turn to the David Coppedge Case, which has only just begun. The Discoveroids are touting the “facts” as they are recited in Coppedge’s complaint, although we have yet to hear from his employer.

We suspect that Coppedge, an activist creationist blogger, was largely unrestrained in his promotion of creationism at JPL, and we’d be very much surprised if his employment record doesn’t disclose a detailed history of reprimands. What will the Discoveroids say when Coppedge’s record of reprimands is revealed? Will they accept them at face value, as they do Comer’s? Somehow, we have our doubts.

If such a record exists, that means the Discoveroids have chosen the wrong man as their champion to insist upon the imaginary constitutional “right” to promote creationism on the job. Further, they’re making much of the “fact” that JPL is some kind of government agency, because although it’s part of CalTech, its work is largely funded by NASA. As a government agency (the Discoveroids claim) JPL can’t muzzle the creationist ravings of its employees. Does that make sense?

Our guess (and it’s only a guess) is that JPL won’t be treated as if it were an agency of the Federal Government. And even if it were, is creationist evangelizing protected behavior on the job? Somehow, we doubt it. If such a right were held to exist, we can foresee a lot of government employees going postal because they’ve been driven mad by creationist colleagues.

We can’t figure out how the Discoveroids decided to get so enthused over the David Coppedge case. He’s the wrong plaintiff, with what we suspect is the wrong employment history, suing the wrong employer, and he’s insisting on a non-existent legal right to promote creationism on the job.

When the David Coppedge case goes down in flames, as we predict that it will, what should be our attitude? Will we gloat, as Casey is now doing over Comer’s case? Yes, probably we will — and rightly so.

Update: See Coppedge vs. JPL: Caltech’s Answer Filed.

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

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2 responses to “Discovery Institute: Comer, Coppedge, & Casey

  1. The DI is likely enthused over the Coppedge case, for two sets of reasons.

    One set of reasons serves the culture war. If Coppedge loses, they have a new martyr to add the “expelled” category. If by some freak of legal poofery Coppedge ultimately prevails, then the DI has succeeded in driving its wedge further into academia, albeit indirectly.

    The other set of reasons for the DI’s interest concerns its connnections to Coppedge.

    Coppedge sits on the board of Illustra Media, which produces The Privileged Planet, Unlocking te Mystery of Life, and Where Does the Evidence Lead?. All of these are promoted by the DI. I believe that all feature DI CSC fellows as well. That’s a strong connection there.

    The other connection is Coppedge’s legal representative, William J. Becker. Recall that Becker is representing American Freedom Alliance in its suit against the California Science Center. This latter lawsuit concerns the cancelled showing of Darwin’s Dilemma, another production from Coppedge’s Illustra Media.

    I suspect that there are other connections between the DI and Coppedge as well. The point is that the DI likely feels extremely compelled to defend a loyal ally in the culture war against “Darwinism.”

  2. Interesting points about the connections. What a tangled web.

    I also find it interesting to view this from JPL’s perspective. I do not believe it matters at all to them that Coppedge was promoting Intelligent Design. He could have chosen any polarizing topic, such as abortion, gay marriage, any of dozens of current political issues, and the result would have been exactly the same. It wouldn’t even matter to JPL management which side of any of those issues he advocated. What was important was the way Coppedge behaved in the workplace, and the disruption and distraction he created with his team-mates. Supervisors are paid to build smoothly functioning teams, not fracture them.