NASA Employee Fired Because of Religious Discrimination?A former computer specialist at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory ("JPL") is taking his former employer to court, alleging that he was wrongfully terminated because of his belief in intelligent design, according to The Associated Press.

Opening statements in the lawsuit by former NASA employee, David Coppedge, are expected to begin Tuesday morning in Los Angeles Superior Court. Lawyers spent Monday arguing several pretrial motions.

Coppedge, who lead his team in the Cassini mission exploring Saturn and its many moons, insists that he was discriminated against because he talked to his co-workers about intelligent design and handed out DVDs explaining it while at work.

For those who do not know what intelligent design is: it is the belief that a higher power had to have aided in creation because life is too complex to have developed solely through evolution.

Coppedge was stripped of his team lead title in 2009 and was let go in 2011 after he spent 15 years on the mission.

However, in an emailed statement, JPL dismissed Coppedge's claims. In court documents, lawyers for the California Institute of Technology, which manages JPL for NASA, said that they issued Coppedge a written warning because his co-workers complained of harassment.

They additionally said that he was demoted from team leader because of ongoing conflicts with others.

Further, Caltech lawyers contend Coppedge was 1 of 2 Cassini technicians and among over 200 JPL employees terminated last year due to planned budget cuts.

Naturally this lawsuit 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 both backing Coppedge.

William Becker, Coppedge's attorney, contends that his client was singled out by his superiors because of his religious beliefs.

Coppedge had a reputation around his place of work as an evangelical Christian. Additionally, interactions with co-workers led other employees to label him a Christian conservative, said Becker.

Coppedge contends other things also led to his demotion, such as his support Proposition 8, limiting marriage to heterosexual couples, and his request to rename the annual holiday party a Christmas party.

In his wrongful termination lawsuit Coppedge seeks attorney's fees and costs, damages resulting from the wrongful termination and a statement from the judge that his rights were violated, said Becker.

If Coppedge's allegations are true he should have a valid claim against his former employer that they violated his First Amendment right to freely exercise his religious beliefs and, thus, wrongfully terminated his employment in the process.

The case hinges upon the reasons for Coppedge's firing and whether the trier of fact believes witness testimony in favor of Coppedge or witness testimony for his former employer.

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