NASA Intelligent Design Case Judge Bars Religion Expert's Testimony

The lawsuit claiming a NASA computer scientist was fired for his advocacy of intelligent design began earlier this week, but a judge has ruled that he will not allow a religion expert to testify on whether or not intelligent design is religious dogma.

The case centers around whether or not David Coppedge, a former "team lead" on NASA's Cassini mission, was reprimanded, demoted, and eventually fired for his belief in intelligent design.

The Jet Propulsion Laboratory, where Coppedge worked, has argued that his performance was unsatisfactory, he received complaints about his attitude from coworkers, and his eventual firing was a result of budgetary concerns and the approaching end of the Cassini mission.

Coppedge claims that supervisors at the JPL treated him unfairly because of his discussions of intelligent design principles and distribution of various DVDs on the subject.

On Tuesday, the judge in the trial ruled that Coppedge's lawyer, William Becker, could not call upon a religious expert to testify as to whether or not intelligent design constitutes "religion."

According to Becker, the complaints of harassment from one of Coppedge's co-workers came about when Coppedge gave her the intelligent design DVDs.

Becker says that the complaints show prejudice, since the DVDs do not contain religious material, but "they had already assumed or prejudged what their contents were."

Superior Court Judge Ernest Hiroshige did say that the DVDs could be played in the courtroom, but he would not allow the witness because he was "quite able to make a decision based on the evidence and the legal standards."

According to the opening statements in the case, Coppedge frequently offered the DVDs to coworkers who wished to borrow them, but some individuals took exception to a list Coppedge kept of who had borrowed the DVDs and how they responded to their contents.

This complaint led to a 2009 meeting between Coppedge and his supervisor, Greg Chin, who asked Coppedge to not dicsuss religion or politics inside the office if it would become disruptive.

From this point, the plaintiff's and defendant's stories diverge.

Chin claims that Coppedge became angered by his request and challenged him to a debate on the merits of intelligent design outside of the JPL offices. Chin also alleges that Coppedge became insulting with a coworker during a discussion on California's Proposition 8 banning same-sex marriage in the state.

Coppedge, on the other hand, claims it was Chin who became agitated after he tried to explain that intelligent design was a theory he believed in, not a religion.