Wednesday, April 28, 2010

The Money Quote

Justice Stevens in the dissent:
Making a plain, unadorned Latin cross a war memorial does not make the cross secular. It makes the war memorial sectarian.

PDF of the Mojave Desert Cross Supreme Court Decision.

Friday, April 23, 2010

A Duck Talks

We’ve all had them--the co-worker from hell. Perhaps it was the woman who seemed to have an endless supply of children; all selling something for their band trip, or scout troop, or soccer team…Each week brought in a new kiosk where you felt the subtle, yet substantial obligation to purchase yet more cookies or popcorn or candy or stationery or bedazzle kit. Otherwise their miserable little beast will be forever deprived of the awesomeness that is band camp. If only you had bought one more candle…

Or the co-worker you dare not mention certain topics when near-by.

“This problem is pale in comparison to—“
“Palin! Did you say PALIN!! Eww…I hate that woman! Do you know what she said last week? Let me tell you in miniscule detail, and everything that could possibly be wrong with it.”

The boss that brings in their 17-year-old son to “intern” for the summer. The man who wears so much cologne, you rush to the smoker’s break room for “clean air.” The guy who calls in sick most Mondays. And every Friday in the summer.

Because you and I have had such co-workers; we can anticipate most jurors have as well. What would the average juror think regarding the Coppedge lawsuit?

See, this is what I have to think about every time I take a client. Not just what they are saying, and how wonderful the case appears from my client’s perspective—but what will the opposing party claim? What will a neutral determinator—the jury—think is more feasible? This is why I prefer my methodology--not what you “think” or I “feel.” How would a neutral determine based upon all of our arguments?

From the facts I have now—I think the Coppedge case is a loser. Oh sure, it makes great press releases, and sounds wonderful to the choir. They will lap it up. But as a lawyer, representing a client, I would tell them it isn’t worth the effort.

The first amendment (“freedom of speech”) would not sustain a motion to dismiss. The employer was not a state-actor, and employers are allowed to limit employee speech. The only real question is whether Mr. Coppedge was discriminated against for religious beliefs. Assuming his supervisor did claim this promotion of ID amounted to “pushing religion”—the inquiry does not end there. Apparently under California Law religious proselytizing can be limited. The key question is whether the conduct “imposes personally and directly on fellow employees, invading their privacy and criticizing their personal lives.” Chalmers v Tulon Co of Richmond 101 F.3d 1012 (4th Cir. 1996)

[If you think about it, this makes sense. Coppedge is in a supervisory position. If he pushes what appears to be religion on a subordinate, and his superiors take no action, JPL could be sued for religious discrimination by Coppedge’s subordinate! The employer is between a rock and a hard place—do nothing and Coppedge’s underlings could sue. Stop him and he sues.]

We see where the line is drawn—we now can anticipate the arguments from each side. Coppedge will attempt to paint himself as only talking to others after they first talked to him. That he only talked to them after hours, in the most minimal manner possible. That as soon as anyone indicated they were not interested in his ideas, he immediately withdrew and never, ever raised it again.

JLP, the employer will portray Coppedge as being insistent with co-workers, being pushy, repeating ID around everyone regardless of how they felt. That he invaded their privacy. Simply put, they will attempt to portray him as the employee from ID-Hell.

No surprise, even William Becker (Coppedge’s attorney) sees this coming.
William Becker:… he’s[Coppedge] not pushy and he’s not persistent in his views. He’s a very mild-mannered guy, so any potential claim he was overly-aggressive in the way that he approached people about his interest in intelligent design is not going to be very successful in this case.

David never had any other co-worker refuse to take a DVD from him. And David never had a co-worker tell him, ‘Listen. You’re being too pushy, I’m not interested in the subject, please go away.’ If anyone expressed disinterest in the subject, David would walk away.

So this isn’t a case of him being overly persistent or obnoxious in his behavior, when he approached other employees; although that’s the way JPL is expected to argue their position. That it wasn’t based on a viewpoint. That it wasn’t based on discrimination and it wasn’t based on a perception of religious speech; they are going to argue that it was based on David’s mannerisms and his behavior. And if they try to do that I think they will be very unsuccessful when they learn what a mild-mannered guy he is and that he is not the type of person who engaged in that kind of conduct.

Podcast with Coppedge’s attorney. [Warning; it starts to play as soon as you click on it.]

Lovely depiction, and exactly what a lawyer would do—express his client in the best possible light.

But lawsuits don’t end there. They don’t end with mild-mannered David on the stand, and then the jury decides. The employer will also provide proofs.

One thing that would bother me (if I was investigating taking Coppedge’s case) was that human resources did an investigation, interviewed him (where he admitted engaging in these conversations at work) and talked with other employees. According to Plaintiff’s own complaint, human resources found out other employees considered this “pushing religion” and “disruptive” and “unwelcome.” Dangerously close to imposing on co-workers and invading their privacy!

Of course Plaintiff will testify no employee every complained directly to him. What is wrong with that? Think back to YOUR co-worker from hell. Did you complain directly to them? Did you march right up and say, “Enough of the Palin-talk.” Or “Use 1/10 of the cologne, buddy!” Nope, most times you grinned and bore it with your other co-workers. Perhaps subtle (and not-so-subtle) hints were sent. We all can picture:

David Coppedge: Did you see that show on Evolution last night?
Co-worker: [thinking “not again!”] Mmm—mm must have missed it.
David Coppedge: Funny how they never show problems with the theory.
Co-Worker: Gee…look at the time! Time to rotate the coffee filters.

Coppedge walks away thinking, “They didn’t tell me to stop!” The co-worker walks away and thinks, “What a jerk.”

What are the chances the employer will produce such a witness? A co-worker who says it was unwelcome. Remember—they only need one!

Obviously I don’t know—I have absolutely no insight into the employee files at JPL. I know what I would point out. David Coppedge is on the board of Directors for Illustra Media-- the publisher of the very DVD’s he was handing out, including ”Unlocking the Mystery of Life” This is a guy who is interested in Intelligent Design. I would point out the numerous articles David Coppedge has written on ID. I would point out discussions he has had (as I mentioned in my last blog entry) with those opposed to ID.

See, here’s where the neutral party may question the situation. On the one hand we have a Plaintiff who is suing for money and sits there all mild-mannerly, claiming he would never be pushy about his belief. On the other hand, we see a guy who (and he has every right) composes article after article on ID, engages others, and sits on the board that produces the DVD’s he is handing out. As these articles came in evidence—over and over—it will be more difficult for a juror to believe he would walk away from a conversation on ID the instant someone indicated they were not interested.

We have an employer who will very, VERY likely produce at least one employee who will testify Coppedge’s statements were unwelcome, but they did not feel comfortable approaching their supervisor about it. (Too many people investigated the matter and came to that conclusion.) That indicated they took the DVD out of politeness and later threw it away.

And I have jurors who have experienced co-workers from hell.

Barefoot Bum: Having been a manager and executive, I would strong suggest that Coppedge is not being demoted because he's religious, he's being demoted because he's an obnoxious asshole.

Yep. Jurors like that.

This lawsuit will serve ID interests, as it is great press release, already stirring up those who believe it in. It will serve the attorney—he gets more advertisement. It will not serve the client—David Coppedge.

Monday, April 19, 2010

A Duck Walks

I was apprised of the Coppedge Case in which another Intelligent Design (“ID”)proponent claims he was discriminated against in his employment because of his pro-ID support. )H/T to Wintery Knight)

I became fascinated with the delicate steps taken to avoid claiming ID is a religious belief. Let’s look at the background.

David Coppedge runs a blog entitled Creation-evolution headlines focusing on the intelligent design debate. He is the contact for a Creationist Organization He wrote a book entitled ”The World’s Greatest Creation Scientists” He actively engages in disputes over intelligent design, mentioning Jesus. He also is a Systems Administrator at Jet Propulsion Laboratory, a federally-funded NASA laboratory, managed by California Institute of Technology.

The facts (and we are only seeing this from David Coppedge’s perspective) I have taken from the complaint filed in Los Angeles Superior Court. He is a Systems Administrator in Information Technology—in other words he works with their computers. He was placed in a supervisory position over other System Administrators. He freely admits engaging co-workers, after hours, in discussions about ID. He offered them DVD’s, but never forced or coerced anyone to take a DVD.

On March 2, 2009, Coppedge was called into his supervisor’s office, indicating co-workers had complained about Coppedge’s “pushing his religious views on them by discussing ID and offering them DVDs to view.” (Plaintiff’s complaint, paragraph 19) Coppedge agreed he would stop. Within the next few weeks, human resources investigated the situation, interviewed him, and issued a written warning. This resulted in a demotion. The complaint states it succinctly:

Plaintiff was told his discussions with co-workers concerning ID and his distribution of the documentary films on DVD entitled ‘Unlocking the Mystery of Life’ and ‘The Privileged Planet’ amount to ‘pushing religion’ and ‘were unwelcome’ and ‘disruptive.’ Although no one had previously said these things to him, his supervisors informed him ‘a lot of people have been overly nice to you just to move on when you presented the ideas. (Plaintiff’s complaint, paragraph 7)

He is suing for being discriminated against for his First amendment right, “Freedom of Speech,” as well as being discriminated against for religious beliefs. Not HIS religious beliefs, mind you, but the mistaken religious beliefs of his superiors.

Notice the thin line the IDers must traverse. When talking about ID in Church, or with Christian friends, everyone understands and accepts who the Designer is—it’s God. Jesus. Intelligent Design is a scrumptious tool to prove there is a God. Sure it uses science, and scientific terms-- this is an argument that nature proves there is a God.

But when discussing ID where religion becomes an obstacle—such as teaching it in public schools—the IDer is careful to claim there is no theistic component; they aren’t making any determination as to who or what the intelligent designer is. No, sirree; no way; no how! Nothing religious to see here!

This creates the present situation where Coppedge is left in the position of claiming there is no religious reason, but the other person mistakenly discriminated against him for religious reasons, even though Coppedge holds the religious belief the other person claims he does, so they aren’t really mistaken after all!

Think about it. On Saturday night, Coppedge speaks at a local church about how the bacterial flagellum is irreducibly complex, and therefore there must be a God. The next day he teaches Sunday School how the bacterial flagellum is irreducibly complex, and therefore there must be a God. That afternoon, he goes out to eat with friends, discussing how the bacterial flagellum is irreducibly complex, and therefore there must be a God. On Monday morning, he points out to co-employees and subordinates the bacterial flagellum is irreducibly complex, and therefore there must be…an…….Intelligent designer.

What is the difference? Who is surprised one naturally assumes the same argument used for God on Saturday, Sunday and every evening is the same used on Monday morning?

Supervisor: Don’t push your religion on co-workers.
Coppedge: I’m not—I am promoting Intelligent Design.
Supervisor: Aren’t you a Christian?
Coppedge: Yes, but that has nothing to do with it.

Supervisor: Do you believe the Intelligent Designer is a God?
Coppedge: Yes, but that has nothing to do with it.
Supervisor: Do you believe the Intelligent Designer is your God?
Coppedge: Yes, but that has nothing to do with it.

So if the Supervisor limits Coppedge’s proselytizing, it is the supervisor’s fault for presuming a Christian would be promoting a Christian religion by using a Christian argument, under a different title—“Intelligent Design.”

I wish IDers’ would come out and say it. They are talking about a God. It is the best candidate. This mincing and dancing around words leaves a bad taste in everyone’s mouth. Admit you are talking about God, take the consequences and move on.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

What are you Praying for?

On Lorena’s Blog a person gave an aggress-passive comment ending with, “I have no idea if you’re a Christian or not. Only Christ knows your heart. But I will pray for you and your family.”
I am aware my family and (at one time—who knows if they continue) friends prayed for me as well. What, specifically, are they praying will happen? I understand how, in asking God to heal someone, even though you may not understand the specifics, the person is asking God to reach in the body, remove the cancerous cells, and miraculously replace the damaged tissue. Or if asking for employment—that God would “nudge” the resume to the right person at the right moment.

I equally understand how prayer is self-soothing. It helps one cope with a dying relative, or divorce without necessarily granting the desired wish. I’ve heard plenty apologetic defenses to the failure of prayer being God wanting prayer to affect the praying person—not the prayee.

But what could one possibly pray for a deconvert with any specificity?

Are they praying the deconvert gains knowledge? That God would “nudge” a certain book or article their way? If so, the person hopelessly does not understand deconversion. It isn’t “one thing.” It isn’t some silver bullet, that if only someone could give an explanation how the two accounts of Judas’ death could line up, we would become card-carrying Christians again.

Further, the deconvert often has far more knowledge than the Christian praying for them! Clearly more knowledge, even in the Christian’s paradigm, is not necessary for salvation—it wasn’t necessary for that person to be saved! How many times have we heard, “Have you read Strobel? Or Craig? Or Boyd? Or _____” and we say, “Yep.” If you are praying the deconvert needs more knowledge, you are wasting your time.

I’ve had people tell me they think Satan is deceiving me. Are they praying God will make Satan stop? How many times does one need to say that? At 100 prayers, does God finally say, “O.K., I guess they are serious that they want Satan to stop.” [A side-note to those interested in time-theory surrounding God. If God is outside time, it is often claimed all times are the “same” to Him. In other words, he sees our chronological time at the same moment. Our yesterday is the same to Him as our today and the same as our tomorrow. He sees 1000 B.C.E. at the same exact instant he sees 2010 C.E. If this was true, wouldn’t it also be true any prayer would be heard both at the same time as the instance the event requested is occurring AND all prayers would be heard simultaneously to God? Therefore, praying to God for the same thing twice is unnecessary.]

And if prayer is designed to make the praying person fell better, how does that work when it comes to knowledge? Are they supposed to feel better they know less than I do? Are they supposed to feel better that Satan is deceiving me and not them?

Are they praying God will reveal himself to me? How? What--Specifically--are they asking God to do? Curiously, we are criticized for asking God to reveal himself, as that would be selfish. But it is fine for the Christian to do so?

Are they praying we would be influenced by our friends? After abandoning us? (The irony is too rich in that one. Best leave it with a chuckle.)

I suspect the prayer consists of something like, “Please help DagoodS become a Christian.” An innocuous, non-specific generalism about as useful as, “Please help the starving children of the world, by making them feel full.” The children will still starve…

Thursday, April 08, 2010

Anti-Supernatural Bias

Recently I monitored one conversation and was engaged in another where the term “anti-supernatural bias” came up. It generally works as follows:

Christian: Here is a whole bunch of evidence for a miracle.
Non-theist: I am not convinced because of this, that, these and those.
Christian: You don’t believe because you have anti-supernatural bias.

(You can see its use here, here, and here at other popular Christian apologetic sites.)

This comes across as a whiney excuse for either lack of evidence, lack of persuasion or both.

Look, here is a simple fact in life. I don’t care what you believe—there is a person who holds a dissimilar position. Whether the field is politics, or economics or medicine or theism or food or countless other areas; there is a person who has “anti-your-position bias.” They believe differently than you. While sometimes it may be an area they haven’t investigated; other times the person has investigated as well as (and maybe more completely) than you and came to a contrasting conclusion.

I couldn’t imagine complaining to an opposing counsel, “Aw…you have a bias toward interpreting the facts favorably for your client and against my position.” Really? That would come as a surprise to…anyone? My job—my obligation—is to present the facts, evidence and argument so strongly to opposing counsel they recognize the danger of going forward and therefore become motivated to settle.

Or imagine a political debate where each side grouses how the other side has “anti-me” bias! We want to hear facts; we want argument. We don’t want to hear how the Republican candidate has “anti-Democrat” bias…I think we already know that! Let’s move on; let’s see the strength of the arguments!

Secondly, I am an atheist and a naturalist. Telling me I have a bias for natural explanations is about as informative as telling a bachelor they aren’t married. Kinda goes with the term “bachelor.” The reason I AM an atheist is for the lack of evidence of a God. The reason I AM a naturalist is because of the lack of evidence for the supernatural. If I thought the evidence sustained for supernatural intervention—I wouldn’t be an atheist! Telling me I have such a bias is patently ridiculous in light of my atheism.

Guess what? I have anti-alien bias. And anti-astrology bias. And anti-crystals-heal bias, anti-yeti bias, and anti-9/11-conspiracy bias. Why? Because I am not persuaded aliens, astrology, healing crystals, yetis and 9/11 conspiracy theories exist. If you want to remove my bias—give me convincing proof on these things.

If you want me to get over my “anti-supernatural bias”—present sustaining proof. Yes, it may be the proof does not persuade me, but persuades others. Perhaps I am blinded by my secret desire to snort cocaine off a prostitute’s butt. Live with it. Because when you retreat to “you atheists have anti-supernatural bias” it comes across as if even you don’t think the evidence is persuasive enough unless you already believe in the supernatural.

Further, having “supernatural bias” isn’t even enough. Protestants are not convinced of Catholic miracles (Fatima), even though Protestants certainly believe in the supernatural. Christians are not convinced of Hindu miracles, even though Christians believe in the supernatural. Jews aren’t persuaded by Christian claims; Christians by Muslim claims; even Christians question other Christian claims. See, it isn’t just bias against supernatural; the apologist is bemoaning the other person’s anti-apologist’s supernatural bias. They can’t even convince others who already believe a God interacts—why would they be surprised they can’t convince me with the same evidence I’ve heard before?

It sounds as if the person is saying, “No fair, no fair, no fair, no fair! If you don’t already believe supernatural interaction occurs exactly how I say it must occur—I can’t convince you with the paltry evidence and measly arguments at my disposal.” Doesn’t say much for the evidence, eh?

Lose the whine. Give it your best shot with the evidence and arguments you have, and if they aren’t with it. Whimpering about the other person’s bias makes you sound like your God didn't give you enough to work with.

Thursday, April 01, 2010

We Kept Score

Each summer we attended Vacation Bible School. We kept score. You received a point for attendance, a point for bringing your Bible, a point for bringing someone, a point for learning your verse…and so on. The final night, there was a big pile of prizes and the person with the highest points got to pick the first prize (invariably a white pseudo-leather Bible), the next highest took their turn and so on. The poor loser with one or two points was left getting a snake balloon animal.

In AWANA we got trophies and badges and pins for performing activities. We went to AWANA Olympics (like Special Olympics for Christians) where points were kept.

We went to Bible camp where each cabin competed against the other.

(The first time I ever went to Bible camp was when I was 12 or 13. Camp Barakel. No friends went with me. The only person I knew was my brother, who ended up being in a completely different camp, so I only saw him once during the whole week. Not having any friends, I was shunted to THAT cabin. The one for all the lonely, nerdy losers-- the prequel to Revenge of the Nerds.

We were the Black Donkeys. This meant a leather string tied around our neck with a plastic…black…donkey. Our camp counselor (still in college, but “adult” to us) pointed out on the first day that his cabin had won the camp championship every week so far, and he intended to keep up the tradition. God help him…

We played baseball. We sucked. We had swimming competitions. Many of us drowned. We played Basketball. The counselor wept. There wasn’t a competition we weren’t beaten, pummeled and skunked. By mid-week we couldn’t have won the championship if the rest of the camp caught chorea and the plague.

We broke our counselor. One night the camp director appeared and indicated he would be staying with us while the counselor got a few days rest. We didn’t know what happened, but in our 12-year old minds we suspected he had snapped. Carted off to the looney bin. As it turns out, he was able to return for the championship ceremony.

Turns out the big winners got….[drum roll please]….a watermelon. wow. Even we nerds realized that was pretty lame.

The very last day, our counselor took our donkeys back. Because these were leather strings, knotted, and immersed in water a few times—the only realistic way to get them off was to cut the leather. I still vividly remember the counselor’s face as he approached my neck with what looked like a 12 inch Bowie knife and all I could think was, “He’s gonna cut my throat for costing him his watermelon!”)

Getting older, we still kept score. We counted attendance. We counted offerings. We even counted cars in the parking lot! We kept track of building funds with thermometer posters.

But most importantly, we kept Moral Score.

Yeah…yeah…we talked and preached and teached about Christianity being different because it is the only religion in the world that did not require salvation by works—yet boy did we watch each other’s works. If you smoke or drank or didn’t attend church regularly enough…your score was knocked down. You weren’t earning points; they were probably even being deducted! But if you didn’t masturbate (even though you were tempted), or didn’t have sex (even though you were really tempted), or went to church or helped pick up after Sunday School—then you earned Moral Scores.

One never spoke of Moral Scores. This wasn’t said out loud. We simply gravitated to those with similar scores. If drinking alcohol didn’t deduct points—you hung out with people who drank alcohol. They couldn’t take points from you; you couldn’t from them.

We rarely spoke regarding heaven’s particulars (it would be gauche) but the general idea was that we were ALL getting in—some of us would have bigger mansions. Larger crowns. Better parking. Because our Moral Score was higher. We knew there would be judgment seat. That there would be cries of “Why didn’t we do better?” If you had a higher Moral Score, there would be less crying. Lower score—worse housing.

We knew Mother Theresa and Billy Graham were going to have HUGE houses—indoor pools and ambrosia fountains in the bedrooms. We didn’t plan to ascertain those Moral Scores. That guy who was saved at the last minute…well…he might not have a huge Moral Score, but he didn’t get any deductions either. Nice suburban house with a carport.

The fellow who cursed and swore and had extra-marital affairs? If he made it in…(what is heaven coming to if those riff-raff make it?)…the best he would get is a single-wide in Heaven’s trailer park. Really…it’s what he’s used to anyway, right?

The wonderful thing about being saved by Grace is that you don’t have to do anything to be saved. The terrible thing is that without keeping score—how do we know who is the better Christian?