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Posts Tagged ‘free speech’

David Klinghoffer has a new installment on the Coppedge trial.  Several employees paint a picture of Coppedge as very polite, respectful and not at all pushy:

If Coppedge genuinely was hard to get along with — a “harasser,” who made others uncomfortable with his brusque, confrontational manner — this should have become clear by now, three weeks into the trial. It hasn’t. Instead, Coppedge’s attorney has presented as witnesses a series of individuals who worked with him and don’t necessarily agree with him about intelligent design or related matters (politics, religion), but who agree that Coppedge was an entirely inoffensive and capable colleague.

Jennifer Kesterson, now retired from JPL, worked closely with Coppedge under Chin as an information technology (IT) specialist. Coppedge’s lawyer, William Becker, asked her if his client was “pushy.”

“Not at all,” said Kesterton. “Intense?” Again, “No.” If he talked about politics, it was all “quiet, very polite, courteous, very respectful.” When the subject of pro-ID DVDs came up it was equally casual and low key.

Elgin, like Jennifer Kesterton and Ron Aguilar, said that Coppedge’s interests in ID, in politics and in religion did not interfere with work. Interactions he had with colleagues were “consensual.” He didn’t try to “convert” anyone. Coppedge and Elgin disagreed on politics but in “an agreeable manner.” When intelligent design came up, it was, once more, strictly casual — so casual that Elgin wasn’t entirely sure if ID was even the actual theme of the DVD.

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It seems pretty clear that the event that started this whole sad case (Coppedge v. JPL) was when Margaret Weisenfelder complained to a supervisor that David Coppedge made her uncomfortable with his offer to loan her a DVD on intelligent design.  The events that led to her complaint seem pretty straightforward, and her account is pretty similar to his account.  She stated in her interview with the human resources investigator and admitted in her deposition the following (see citations and page numbers below):

When he offered to loan her a DVD, she accepted it.

She watched the DVD and found nothing in it that was offensive.

After watching it, she left it on Coppedge’s desk to avoid speaking to him.

She never told him that his offer to loan her a DVD was unwelcome.

She never had a religious discussion with him.

She never had a discussion about intelligent design with him.

She never asked him what the writing on the sticky note (“try again”) stuck to the DVD meant.

She went to his supervisor and complained about him and said it made her “uncomfortable.”

The supervisor, Greg Chin, said in his interview with HR that Weisenfelder accused Coppedge of harassment based on this.

*****

As noted above, these facts come from the statements and testimony of JPL employees, and is consistent with Coppedge’s testimony.  You can find it here, at the following page numbers:

Weisenfelder interview by the JPL HR investigator, page 16.

Weisenfelder deposition, page 5.

Chin interview by the JPL HR investigator, page 60.

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Based on the federal guidelines on religious expression in the workplace and the standards for harassment, it seems to me that David Coppedge’s actions do not even come close to harassment, even if you accept all the interview notes of the JPL HR department.  The EEOC guidelines provide:

To establish a case of religious harassment, an employee must show that the harassment was:  (1) based on his religion; (2) unwelcome; (3) sufficiently severe or pervasive to alter the conditions of employment by creating an intimidating, hostile, or offensive work environment;

Coppedge’s actions also seem to be well within the guidelines set by the Clinton administration for conduct in federal agencies:

(1) Expression in Private Work Areas. Employees should be permitted to engage in private religious expression in personal work areas not regularly open to the public to the same extent that they may engage in nonreligious private expression, subject to reasonable content- and viewpoint-neutral standards and restrictions: such religious expression must be permitted so long as it does not interfere with the agency’s carrying out of its official responsibilities.

Examples

(a) An employee may keep a Bible or Koran on her private desk and read it during breaks.

(b) An agency may restrict all posters, or posters of a certain size, in private work areas, or require that such posters be displayed facing the employee, and not on common walls; but the employer typically cannot single out religious or anti-religious posters for harsher or preferential treatment.

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The 2d Circuit Court of Appeals upheld last year New York City’s efforts to deny access to public schools for those who have been holding worship services there, even though every other kind of activity is permitted.  But there is good news: the District Court has granted a temporary injunction to stop the evictions.  The evictions are hitting many poorer and minority congregations, since these are the ones who cannot afford more expensive locations and are scrambling to find alternative space:

“These churches are running into the harsh reality that in New York City, it is difficult to find reasonably priced facilities,” said Jordan Lorence, an attorney who argued the churches’ side in the court case. “They are very expensive in Midtown, or they’re nonexistent in some of the poorer areas of town, where the churches do their work.”

Minorities make up the congregations of many of the churches being evicted, said city Councilman Fernando Cabrera, who is pastor of a Bronx church that’s not affected.

“There’s Koreans, Chinese, Puerto Ricans, African-Americans,” said Cabrera, who was arrested last month while protesting the city’s stance. “They’re staples in our community and they provide a volunteer base that the city can never pay for.”

The 2nd Circuit opinion relies on some pretty strange theology:

The prohibition against using school facilities for the conduct of religious worship services bars a type of activity. It does not discriminate against any point of view. The conduct of religious worship services, which the rule excludes, is something quite different from free expression of a religious point of view, which the Board does not prohibit. The conduct of services is the performance of an event or activity. While the conduct of religious services undoubtedly includes expressions of a religious point of view, it is not the expression of that point of view that is prohibited by the rule. Prayer, religious instruction, expression of devotion to God, and the singing of hymns, whether done by a person or a group, do not constitute the conduct of worship services. Those activities are not excluded.

So groups can meet to sing hymns, but they cannot meet to have a worship service and sing hymns.   Groups can meet for religious meditation services, but not for religious worship services.   Groups can meet for anti-religious teaching, but not for religious teaching if it is part of a worship service.   (It is an unfortunate coincidence that most Christian churches have their primary religious instruction in the context of a worship service.)

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