Perhaps this article and this post help explain why the JPL employees mistakenly believed that David Coppedge had no workplace or Constitutional rights to offer to loan out DVDs discussing evidence of design in nature. According to Linda Greenhouse, you can throw out journalistic conventions when dealing with intelligent design:
Journalistic convention requires that when there are two identifiable sides to a story, each side gets its say, in neutral fashion, without the writer’s thumb on the scale. This rule presents a challenge when one side of a controversy obviously lacks merit. But mainstream journalism has learned to navigate those challenges, choosing evolution over “intelligent design,” for example, and treating climate change naysayers as cranks.
Ms. Greenhouse does not seem aware that many do not feel the need for an all or nothing choice between evolution and intelligent design. Michael Behe does not. Her insistence that journalists must make such a choice suggests an ignorance about intelligent design and the wide range of views held by those who are sympathetic to design arguments.
Could the same brew of ignorance and dogmatism have been driving the employees who went after David Coppedge? The record seems clear that they were very ignorant of his rights, and did very little when he tried to educate them.
It reminds me of the quote by Pauline Kael:
I live in a rather special world. I only know one person who voted for Nixon. Where they are I don’t know. They’re outside my ken. But sometimes when I’m in a theater I can feel them.
As to ignorance of the law, this post discusses the relevant standards for religious expression in the workplace.