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Suit: NASA specialist axed over belief in intelligent design

- Associated Press - Monday, March 12, 2012

LOS ANGELES (AP) — A computer specialist at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory is going to court over allegations that he was wrongfully terminated because of his belief in intelligent design.

Openings statements in the lawsuit by David Coppedge were expected Monday afternoon in Los Angeles Superior Court.

Mr. Coppedge, who worked as a team leader on the Cassini mission exploring Saturn and its many moons, claims he was discriminated against because he engaged his co-workers in conversations about intelligent design and handed out DVDs on the idea while at work.

Intelligent design is the belief that a higher power must have had a hand in creation because life is too complex to have developed through evolution alone.

Mr. Coppedge lost his team-leader title in 2009 and was let go last year after 15 years on the mission.

In an emailed statement, JPL dismissed Mr. Coppedge's claims. In court papers, lawyers for the California Institute of Technology, which manages JPL for NASA, said Mr. Coppedge received a written warning because his co-workers complained of harassment.

They also said Mr. Coppedge lost his team-leader status because of ongoing conflicts with others.

Caltech lawyers contend Mr. Coppedge was one of two Cassini technicians and among 246 JPL employees let go last year because of planned budget cuts.

The case has generated interest among supporters of intelligent design. The Alliance Defense Fund, a Christian civil rights group, and the Discovery Institute, a proponent of intelligent design, are supporting Mr. Coppedge's case.

The National Center for Science Education, which rejects intelligent design as thinly veiled creationism, also is watching the case and has posted all the legal filings on its website.

Mr. Coppedge's attorney, William Becker, contends his client was singled out by his bosses because they perceived his belief in intelligent design to be religious. Mr. Coppedge had a reputation around JPL as an evangelical Christian, and interactions with co-workers led some to label him as a Christian conservative, Mr. Becker said.

In the lawsuit, Mr. Coppedge says he believes other things also led to his demotion, including his support for a state ballot measure that sought to define marriage as limited to heterosexual couples and his request to rename the annual holiday party a Christmas party.

Mr. Coppedge is seeking attorney's fees and costs, damages for wrongful termination and a statement from the judge that his rights were violated, Mr. Becker said.

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