Posts Tagged ‘religious discrimination’

If you’ve been reading AVftR for awhile, you may recall a post I did back in February about a controversy over whether it was legal to put Mother Teresa on the face of a U.S. postage stamp. Sounded reasonable, given the decades of humanitarian work and self-sacrifice given by the woman. But, those who objected had the law on their side.

Now, a similar issue has made it into the news, at least in the New York City metro area, but this time there’s no law to justify the apparent discrimination.


As residents and others familiar with NYC know, every sunset to midnight the uppermost floors of the Empire State Building are illuminated by an elaborate system of colored, external lights. The colors & pattern vary, depending on what (if anything) is being honored. It’s a tradition since 1964, and anyone can submit a request to have something or someone celebrated or honored in this way — from a Yankees win to a favored charity to Frank Sinatra’s 80th birthday (in blue, of course). (Last year they even lit up the ESB in red & yellow in honor of the 60th anniversary of the communist take over of China! (see image to left)) Such lightings are, of course, a privilege rather than a right, and decisions are made “at the sole discretion of the ownership and management.”

A few months ago, the lay advocacy group Catholic League submitted an application to have Mother Teresa’s life & legacy honored in blue and white this August 26 — what would be the beatified nun’s 100th birthday. They have even submitted a supporting petition with 40,000 signatures. But, for some reason, the request has been rejected. According to the ESB’s owner, real estate mogul Anthony E. Malkin,

The Empire State Building celebrates many cultures and causes in the world community with iconic lightings, and has a tradition of lightings for the religious holidays of Easter, Eid al Fitr (marking the end of Ramadan), Hanukkah, and Christmas, [but it] has a specific policy against any other lighting for religious figures or requests by religions and religious organizations.”

“Wait a second!,” protests the Catholic League. MLK, Pope John Paul II, and Cardinal John O’Connor have all been posthumously honored by the ESB. So, what gives? Why not Mother Teresa? The NYC Council just this week announced their official disagreement with the “boneheaded” decision (as per City Councilman Vallone), too. But, no response has been forthcoming by Malkin or his spokesman, Daniel Hernandez Lyon.

I am not Roman Catholic nor a devotee of Mother Teresa’s work, so this isn’t a sectarian matter for me. But, I do appreciate what the woman did. So, I am trying to figure out the inconsistency here. True, these other religious figures were not your average priest or pastor down the street, their influence was certainly much more than local and not limited to religious circles or purely religious concerns. But, all of these attributes apply to Mother Teresa, as well. The issue can’t be exclusivity to Americans, either, because the Pope was Polish by birth. (Mother Teresa was Albanian.) And there have arguably been much less-deserving people & causes that have been celebrated by the ESB lights.

Mother TeresaI know, some of you are thinking that Mother Teresa would not want the attention or adulation, and that the Bible teaches that God’s servants are to give the credit to Jesus, etc. And, you’re correct on both accounts. But, that isn’t really the point. The point, rather, is about what appears to be a frivolous decision that smacks of religious and/or some other type of undue discrimination.

There are no federal regulations to point to, in this case. Just a private owner with “a specific policy against,” which can apparently be disregarded at the whim and “sole discretion of the ownership and management.” They do have the right, true. (The American Atheists and the New York Atheists groups have, of course, voiced their support of the decision. On the other hand, some atheist individuals think it’s stupid.) And, maybe there’s a valid and reasonable explanation. But, if so, why hasn’t it been given? Not surprisingly, protests are already being organized. Whatever personal or business(?) reasons Mr. Malkin may have for upholding the rejection of this application, I think he needs to, at the very least, look at this from a PR perspective, issue an apology, and order a top-notch lighting celebration on August 26th.



You remember that documentary called “Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed“? That was the one that came out a year or two ago, hosted/narrated by Ben Stein, that looked at incidents where educators and scientists were ridiculed, denied tenure, and sometimes fired simply for believing that there might be evidence of design in nature. Well, here’s another one for Stein to investigate….

David Coppedge of JPL

David Coppedge at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory

David Coppedge is a high-level IT specialist working at the esteemed Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL), a NASA lab overseen by the California Institute of Technology (Caltech). Until recently, Coppedge was a “Team Lead” Systems Administrator on the ambitious & high-profile Cassini-Huygens mission to Saturn. Then, Coppedge was demoted for religious proselytizing on the job. But, is that really what he did? Not quite.

It seems that Coppedge is guilty of talking about Intelligent Design and loaning/giving pro-ID DVDs to some of his co-workers. He did not force anyone to talk about ID or to take the DVDs. These co-workers had expressed interest or at least willingly accepted the DVDs. None of these people complained to the higher-ups. While Coppedge is a Christian (who edits a private, pro-ID blog), no proselytizing was actually involved. But, one of the supervisors who was aware of the discussions allegedly confronted Coppedge, angrily asserting that “Intelligent Design is religion”, accused Coppedge of “pushing religion”, and ordered him to stop talking about ID, religion, or politics, (why not sports, too?) or he would be fired. That was back in March of 2009, at which point Coppedge says he complied with the demand. He then got a written warning and was demoted the following month.

Coppedge’s attorney, William Becker, Jr., has now filed a lawsuit on behalf of his client in the California Superior Court in Los Angeles. Caltech, JPL, and three of Coppedge’s superiors (i.e., his direct supervisor, group supervisor, and the Manager of IT Resources for the CIO) are all named in the suit. The allegations include: religious discrimination, harassment and retaliation; violation of free speech rights; and wrongful demotion.

Hold up! “Religious discrimination…”? Didn’t I just say there was no proselytizing going on?

Yes. But, the anti-ID crowd usually conflate or connect modern ID Theory with creationism (e.g., “intelligent design creationism”). Of course, anyone who knows much about Intelligent Design and is intellectually honest knows the difference. While compatible with creationism (which begins with a religious text), ID actually begins with observations about the physical world and what we know about the effects/products of intelligent agents versus those of mere chance & necessity. It is the philosophical (and perhaps theological) implications of recognizing design in nature that upsets certain people, especially committed materialists. So, they rhetorically refer to ID Theory as “creationism in a cheap tuxedo” and then dismiss it as religious nonsense.

Although ID is not religion, and the DVDs in question “make no reference to any religion, scriptural text or religious belief”, what matters is that JPL’s management decided the problem was that Coppedge was “pushing [his] religion”. The problem for them is that it is illegal for an employer to “discriminate against an employee based on what they deem is religion,” as per California’s Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA). (Go here for counterpoint arguments to what ScienceBlogger Ed Brayton and ACLU lawyer and Loyola law professor Gary Williams have to say on this.)

According to Casey Luskin, an attorney who works at the Discovery Institute and is a consultant on the suit,

For the offense of offering videos to colleagues, Coppedge faced harassment, an investigation cloaked in secrecy, and a virtual gag order on his discussion of intelligent design. Coppedge was punished even though supervisors admitted never receiving a single complaint regarding his conversations about intelligent design prior to their investigation, and even though other employees were allowed to express diverse ideological opinions, including attacking intelligent design.”

Incidentally, according to the San Gabriel Valley Tribune, “Earlier this month Coppedge claims he met with his supervisors, who told him that the written warning was inappropriate and it would be removed from his file. The suit calls this is [sic] ‘an admission of liability.'” JPL maintains their position that Coppedge’s conduct was inappropriate, that his demotion was justified, and the “gag order” on his speech in the workplace remains in effect.

JPL logo

JPL logo

The other important issue, here, is that of free-speech and First Amendment rights. To some degree, employers have a right to monitor and restrict what their employees talk about while on the job. Issues of profanity, racism, and sexism come to mind. But, did JPL act appropriately in this case? Keep in mind that the lab is federally funded and is the primary planetary spacecraft center for NASA, an agency of the U.S. government’s Executive Branch.

This is just the latest of several such cases where public and private institutions are alleged to have unfairly discriminated against scientists and others for holding and/or promoting views contrary to the Darwinist establishment. In fact, Becker is also representing the American Freedom Alliance in their First Amendment suit against the California Science Center in Los Angeles, which I blogged about at “Shenanigans at the California Science Center“.

You can read the formal complaint in its entirety here. I found the details of the confrontation, secret investigation, and subsequent disciplinary action (Section E, pp. 8-14) particularly interesting and disturbing. I can only imagine the kind of stress, anxiety, humiliation, and fear for his continued employment that Coppedge has been under the past year.

Anyone who thinks that today’s culture of science allows an open discussion of evolution is sorely mistaken,” said Dr. John G. West, associate director of the Center for Science and Culture. “When it comes to intelligent design, private and government-run agencies are suppressing free speech.”

What say you?

Oh, in case you were wondering what the offensive DVDs were, check out “Unlocking The Mystery Of Life” and “The Privileged Planet“.