Coppedge v. JPL & Caltech: Colliding Worldviews

We recently wrote about a load of pre-trial pleadings that had been filed in the case of David Coppedge, the creationist who claims he was wrongfully demoted (and later fired) by his employer because he was promoting Intelligent Design (ID) on the job. He used to work as a computer technician for Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL). He also maintains a creationist website: Creation-Evolution Headlines [which was recently moved here].

Thinking the trial was starting in two weeks, JPL-Caltech filed several “motions in limine” requesting the judge to rule that certain testimony, evidence, and arguments be excluded from the trial, and Coppedge filed a few to get permission to present certain evidence. A day or two later the trial was continued to 07 March, but now that those motions were filed, the parties have filed their responses. We posted about most of Caltech’s motions here: David Coppedge v. JPL & Caltech: Pre-Trial Motions, and there was another one we discussed here: More Pre-Trial Motions.

Our friends at the National Center for Science Education (NCSE) maintain an archive of pleadings in the case: NCSE’s Coppedge archive, and they’ve just added several new pleadings, including the responses to those motions in limine. We’ll discuss them briefly, one at a time. All bold and italics in the pleading excerpts is in the original documents.

The first (these are all pdf files) is Caltech’s Opposition to Coppedge’s Motion to Permit showing of DVDs. You will recall that Coppedge had moved for permission to show his creationist (or intelligent design) material to the jury. Caltech’s opposition to that is 53 pages long. They argue that none of the JPL employees had bothered to watch the DVDs, and they say:

In short, these DVDs have no relevance whatsoever to this lawsuit. From the outset, Coppedge and his supporters at the Alliance Defense Fund and the Discovery Institute have viewed this case as a means to promote and publicize intelligent design. One way they seek to do so is by playing the two DVDs at issue to the jury, regardless of the fact that the witnesses have little or no knowledge of their contents. The media have recognized these publicity goals. In an article about the upcoming trial in this case, one publication noted that “the Discovery Institute is not loosing the grip on its aggressive PR campaign.”

Interesting. If (as JPL-Caltech contends) Coppedge were fanatically thrusting his DVDs onto unwilling colleagues who never watched them, but who complained about Coppedge’s behavior, should Coppedge then be allowed to show those DVDs to the jury?

The rest of the newly-archived pleadings that interest us are Coppedge’s pleadings filed in opposition to Caltech’s motions. The first is Coppedge’s Opposition to Caltech’s Motion to Exclude Testimony and Argument about Viewpoint Discrimination. Recall that Caltech wanted to keep that out of the trial because it’s an ultimate legal question, and Coppedge’s opinion on the matter is improper lay testimony. In response, Coppedge argues:

JPL contends that this case is not about viewpoint discrimination. Seriously? Coppedge has alleged that he was discriminated against when he was ordered to stop “pushing” his religion on people. This case is specifically about viewpoint discrimination.

[…]

As Americans we resist systems where the powerful control the weaker members of society through the suppression of ideas and complete censorship. This court should resist JPL’s desperate attempt to suppress relevant evidence concerning the central issue in the case: viewpoint discrimination.

Quite a disagreement there. The next item is Coppedge’s Opposition to Caltech’s Motion to Exclude Testimony and Argument about the Hostility Proponents of Intelligent Design Have Experienced. Recall that Caltech had moved to exclude references to (or showing of) the Ben Stein “documentary” Expelled. Coppedge says:

JPL erroneously describes “Expelled,” a documentary about the loss of intellectual freedom in America, as “a comedic film staring Ben Stein.” …

“Expelled”‘s opening montage features historical footage of the construction of the Berlin Wall, depicting the division, isolation and despair caused by barriers to freedom. … Throughout the documentary, Stein interviews various academicians and scientists who lost jobs, tenure and entire careers by doubting evolutionary theory and supporting intelligent design. Stein documents evolutionary theory as the basis for experimentation in eugenics and Hitler’s policy of racial cleansing.

[…]

[I]t is vital that jurors view relevant DVDs and not be forced to accept the biased testimony of JPL’s untrustworthy witnesses.

The parties to this case seem to live on different planets. The next item is Coppedge’s Opposition to Caltech’s Motion to Exclude Testimony and Argument that Coppedge’s Conduct was Justified because of NASA’s or JPL’s Research into the Origin of Life. Recall that Coppedge’s cheerleaders have been constantly saying that Coppedge was just trying to be helpful to JPL by offering his creationist material, and his being an advocate of creationism or intelligent design was work-related. JPL-Caltech’s motion says that’s all nonsense because none of that was Coppedge’s job — he was merely a computer technician. Coppedge says:

… Coppedge had no reason to believe that discussions about the origins of the material universe and life on Earth would be off limits at an organization dedicated to exploring those origins. But when Coppedge sought to interest co-workers in DVDs on the subject, he was in for a rude awakening. Like the target of a restless mob shouting “Kill the beast!”, Coppedge was accused of pushing his religion on people, then charged with harassment and ordered to keep his personal views to himself unless others brought the subject up first!

Okay, that’s enough for one post. There’s plenty of material in the NCSE archive for at least one more. The judge who has to decide these motions has his work cut out for him. His rulings will determine how the case is tried.

Copyright © 2011. The Sensuous Curmudgeon. All rights reserved.

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5 responses to “Coppedge v. JPL & Caltech: Colliding Worldviews

  1. SC said:

    The parties to this case seem to live on different planets.

    Yes, JPL lives on Earth; I have no idea where Coppedge and his ilk come from.

  2. Throughout the documentary, Stein interviews various academicians and scientists who lost jobs, tenure and entire careers by doubting evolutionary theory and supporting intelligent design.

    This is a complete lie. None of the “academicians and scientists” interviewed in “Expelled” lost jobs, tenure or their entire career. None of them. Not a single one. This, in fact, is the Big Lie in “Expelled” that is easily exposed with just a few hours of Google searches. The only common thread that runs through all the interviewees is that they are ALL associated with the Discovery Institute.

    When interviewed about the film Stein said that they interviewed hundreds of scientists whose had lost jobs or had their careers destroyed simply by supporting “intelligent design.” And, yet, in “Expelled” the interviewees are the usual suspects; nobody new and certainly not “hundreds.” Stein lied about those interviews. They were never conducted; total fabrication.

    This is the sort of “breathtaking inanity” that astounded Judge Jones during Kitzmiller, the blatant, brazen lying even in the face of demonstrable facts to the contrary.

  3. Sounds to me like what Coppedge did bore about the same relation to his work as selling Amway products. I had a university colleague who did that, but he never approached anyone on campus, and he never contacted potential customers using his U. e-mail account. Similarly, Coppedge should have kept his activities strictly separate from his work. I don’t see how his lawyers think they can make a case.

  4. Coppedge’s pleadings read like unserious hyperbolic propaganda — ex: Like the target of a restless mob shouting “Kill the beast!”,

    If I was the judge I’d be a bit PO’d about having to read that drivel and not disposed to rule on it favorably.

  5. I hope JPL wins their motions, but if they don’t I can’t imagine the result will be very different. No non-creationist jurer is likely to respond well to being required to watch videos like that. They are just likely to get even more ticked off at Coppedge’s team for wasting their time with irrelevant testimony. And any creationist jurers aren’t going to change their opinion if the videos aren’t shown.
    So, the way I see it is: JPL wins motions, Coppedge loses opportunity to proselityze. JPL loses motions, Coppedge ticks neutral jurers off by proselytizing them.