Front of WTC six months before the attack
I remember well how JPL responded the day twelve years ago when terrorists struck America. It was a work day, and despite the shock of the images on the TV news, most of us out here in California felt we needed to get to our jobs. Every JPL employee, though, was turned away at the gate and told to return home. No one knew the extent of the threats, and NASA facilities were considered potential targets. It wasn't till the 13th that JPL gave the all clear to return to work. It turned into an uncharacteristically patriotic day.
As could be expected, what became known simply as "9/11" was the talk of the lab. Everyone was concerned and worried. We probably all remember all the members of Congress--liberal and conservative alike--joining in an unprecedented show of patriotism, singing "God bless America" on the capitol steps. A similar upwelling of patriotism swept across JPL, usually a bastion of godless evolutionism and political correctness. The lab opened the prestigious Van Karman Auditorium for "meditation" all day, projecting the names of the victims on the screen to the music of Barber's Adagio for Strings. Within a few days, the JPL choir put on an outdoor program of patriotic songs, including God Bless America and the Battle Hymn of the Republic, attended by many on lab.
Recently a came across a memo to all employees shortly after 9/11. Signed by all 18 members of the Executive Committee, the memo from JPL Director Charles Elachi called on all employees to "re-dedicate ourselves to the principles and values that make us proud to be Americans". With the memo came an American flag lapel pin. The pins became a common sight on employees for the next few days.
This memo had a particularly poignancy for me. During my trial in 2012, JPL's lawyers, and Cassini Manager Bob Mitchell, emphasized that JPL was a "league of nations." For political correctness, it was inappropriate, therefore, to expect employees to celebrate Christmas. That's why my question to Carmen in 2003, asking why she was changing "Christmas Party" to "Holiday Party,"
was so "harassing" to her. Mitchell himself ordered her not to change the name back, even though Christmas is a federal holiday in America. How soon liberals forget the principles that make them proud to be Americans.
All the while, to this day, the only flag flying high over the JPL Administration Building is a huge American flag.
Chaplain J. F. Coppedge
There's a disturbing story from World Magazine
about what's happening in the military chaplaincy. "Holding the Line" by Edward Lee Pitts begins:This year: An Idaho Air Force base removes a painting called “Blessed Are the Peacemakers” because it references a Bible verse. The Air Force yanks off You-Tube a video tribute to first sergeants because its statement, “God created a first sergeant,” is “highly suggestive of the Book of Genesis in the Bible and has Christian overtones.” ...Last year: A superior tells an Air Force major to remove from his desk the Bible he had kept there for 23 years. An Army lieutenant colonel instructs his subordinates to recognize the “religious right in America” as a domestic hate group like the KKK and Neo-Nazis.
My father, a Navy chaplain after the war, would have a fit. What is the world coming to? Is this America? I'm convinced he would consider such actions a sign the world is coming to an end.
Leading a JPL tour, 2001
Further down the article, there's an explanation of the military policy that justified these responses to reasonable Christian influences by chaplains:An Air Force statement this spring said service members could “express their personal religious beliefs as long as it does not make others uncomfortable.”
Sound familiar? That word -- "uncomfortable" was Margaret's favorite word at deposition and on the witness stand. Both Margaret and Carmen equated my somehow making them "uncomfortable" with "harassment."
Pitts rightly asks the follow-up question: Many chaplains wondered who would be deciding what is uncomfortable—and would this definition change over time?
Chaplains today are in the same pickle I was in at JPL. There's no way they can know who is going to be uncomfortable. The "uncomfortable" standard is an uncomfortable standard. Unlike harassment, which was clearly defined in the JPL policy as something so persistent that it was "likely to interfere significantly" with someone's work, "uncomfortableness" is entirely subjective. What you had for lunch could make you uncomfortable. The style of clothes a coworker is wearing could make you uncomfortable. Someone's voice pitch could make you uncomfortable. Only the target knows; the "perpetrator" of discomfort cannot know in advance what will make someone uncomfortable.
The "comfort" criterion amounts to prior restraint on speech. As I explained previously
, Margaret and Carmen, despite their protestations that it was my "manner" not the "content" of my material that made them uncomfortable, admitted in testimony that what they were really uncomfortable about was that I would bring up subjects like ID and Prop 8 that they felt were "inappropriate" in the workplace.
Watch out for that word "uncomfortable." I believe it is going to be the next word leftists will use to persecute conservatives and Christians. As we all know, the standard is unequally applied. Nobody cared whether I was uncomfortable with the constant Darwin promotion at JPL. Nobody cared if I was uncomfortable with the false allegations made against me. All the pampering went to my accusers who used this vague word uncomfortable
to deprive me of my rights. But where, in the Constitution or in common sense, does anyone have the right to be comfortable all the time? The pursuit of happiness is not the pursuit of comfort. It's the pursuit of eudaimonia, the good life. The good life involves meeting challenges and engaging with people. Much as we would like to be comfortable, we live in a society and culture that requires rubbing shoulders with those who disagree with us. A good life involves progress in engaging with people on the important issues of society. I'm sorry, Margaret and Carmen, if the thought of intelligent design made you uncomfortable. I'm sorry for you. Ignorance may be comfortable, but it is not desirable. I wanted to increase your eudaimonia with some knowledge about a subject of great interest and importance to everyone. I expected that knowledge would increase your comfort in the long run.
This is the way liberals can shut down speech without having to think. By claiming that some topics made them "uncomfortable," Margaret and Carmen were able to close down discussion of intelligent design. They could have evaluated the evidence objectively and fairly, and told me they disagree. They could have even said they prefer not to discuss it. Instead, they charged me with making them uncomfortable
, making me out to be a bad person for even bringing it up. Wouldn't that be a convenient ploy in any conversation where the other person seems to have a better position than yours; smile and tell him thank you, then go tell his boss he made you uncomfortable. Result: "This topic is not for further discussion" (my boss's words).
Another word that can be used as a hammer against certain viewpoints (i.e., conservative and Christian viewpoints) is "civility." While leftists can breathe fire and cause vandalism in support of their attacks against Prop 8, just the offer of information in favor of it is considered by leftists to be uncivil. One of my favorite political cartoons
shows how leftist moral standards are applied.
See also these articles addressing problems with the "uncomfortable" standard in the military chaplaincy on Family Research Council
At Mooney Falls June 2013
This week I had 5 doctor visits and an MRI. My surgeons, pleased (and amazed) with my progress, discussed plans for the future. While sticking with the "standard of care" (the octreotide injections every 4 weeks), we know it will not prevent the metastatic tumors in my liver from coming back. Since they are slow-growing, though, and since I do not have symptoms of carcinoid syndrome right now, there is not a rush to try the more aggressive targeted therapies yet. Good news: one of the primary blood markers for tumor activity has been dropping since surgery and is now in the normal range. In addition, I've regained most of my weight since February. I'm walking 2-4 miles a day and eating healthy food. This should help my immune system fight the tumors. On Friday I had an MRI to try to get a better glimpse at how many tumors remain.
City of Hope continues to be a world leader in cancer research. A friend from Sunday School contracted another kind of cancer and is getting good treatment there. Another friend showed me an article from CBS Los Angeles
that sounds too good to be true: a discovery at City of Hope that might not only cure cancer, but obesity as well! (Obesity is not my problem.) Another report from The Independent
described another miracle cure being considered. In addition, a Phase III trial at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center is testing the efficacy of Lutetium-177 radioisotope therapy on neuroendocrine tumors like mine; this treatment has been shown effective in Europe. Often hopeful treatments that work on mice turn out to have serious side effects when tried on humans, but one of my surgeons said we know much more now than we did 10-20 years ago and fewer mistakes are being made. The question for me is whether one of these targeted therapies will become available in time for me. Only my primary care Physician (the Lord Jesus Christ) knows for sure.
Scary thought: one of my surgeons said that on the day of surgery I was probably as little as a day away from complete bowel obstruction from the primary tumor pressing on my small intestine. The Lord brought me to the right doctors at the right time; otherwise I could have died in February. Praise God; I am so thankful to be given this extension of time, and need your prayers that I will use it wisely.
Cast into the black hole
I visited face-to-face with four JPL Christian friends near the lab on Monday (July 15) and was so encouraged by their faithfulness in prayer for me. The one who was familiar with my work in Cassini said there was no question about my reputation for technical competence. In addition, I received a very encouraging email from a coworker, now at another job; I didn't know was a Christian. He described me as "hard working" and "competent". In his opinion, it was my stance on Prop 8 that caused me the most trouble. He himself was aware of strong animus against Prop 8 around the lab.
One anecdote he shared that I didn't know about is pretty revealing about the retaliation going on behind the scenes after the lawsuit was filed:
Several months before you were fired you helped me with the FSW computers. The second time you came into my office to help me, I was brought into a conference room by Nancy (I think that was her name, I can’t quite recall her name, she sat across the hall from Donna, the secretary). All the doors were shut and I was told not to work with you because people there had issues with you. I asked her what those issues were but she declined to mention her rationale. Instead she told me that a lot of people are upset by you and she said that people had refused to work with you and that I should not work with you because you were causing “serious” problems for the team. The conversation was extremely uncomfortable for me. It was all so vague to me but she was adamant that I not work with you. She told me to ask the other SA’s for help if I needed help.
This goes to show that the managers were scheming to turn people away from me in those final months. Not surprising, since JPL's lawyers were meeting with the Cassini managers and my line managers specifically about my lawsuit from March to December of 2010. We found that out in depositions, but because of attorney-client privilege, we could not determine the content of those meetings, only the general subject matter and the participants. One can only imagine how they plotted to get rid of me while covering their tracks to prevent charges of retaliation. It worked; they got away with it at trial. The judge would not allow us to speculate about what they plotted.
Till next time, thanks for reading, thanks for your prayers, and be encouraged that I am doing well. I hope you will be a regular reader of Creation-Evolution Headlines
where I report on science news just about every day.
"So teach us to number our days, that we may apply our heart unto wisdom" (Psalm 90:12).
"The effective fervent prayer of a righteous man avails much" (James 5:16b).
God bless you on the trail
I've owed my readers some news for over two months now. SInce I have been silent on this blog, some have worried if everything is OK. The short answer is, yes! I am recovering well. The picture above was taken June 19 of me jumping off a 60' cliff called "Skydiver Leap" into a deep pool in Havasupai Canyon (a tributary of the Grand Canyon). It was my ninth time there (first time in 1988). On this expedition I carried a pack 20 miles and hiked an additional 15 miles on a great trip with over a dozen young adults, one of whom I was able to lead to Christ one night at Havasu Falls.
Just prior to that trip I had a good 3-day camping jaunt up the California coast with a friend from Australia, another hiking buddy and two nephews. These were my first chances to get away since surgery. I'm posting photos from these trips on my Flickr page over time: see them here-- http://www.flickr.com/photos/psa104/
. One coastal photo caught the eyes of over 3,000 viewers.
Mooney Falls is a 200-footer.
I'm feeling strong, walking 2-4 miles a day and eating healthy food. Though I'm not out of the woods, I've recovered remarkably well so far, thanks to the prayers of many people and the grace of God. Just 3.5 months ago I was helpless in a hospital bed, and now look! When my oncologist saw these pictures of me hiking, doing handstands and cliff diving, she said it made her day! I'm on long-term treatment with octreotide, a chemical that mimics a natural enzyme with receptors for the tumor cells in my liver.
It's supposed to shrink the tumors, or at least inhibit them from growing. In late May, I had to inject myself three times a day for two weeks. Now, every 4 weeks I get a shot in the gluteal muscles that makes me sore for about a day, but then I feel fine.
Neuroendocrine tumors, like those embedded in my liver, are usually slow-growing. The octreotide is probably just buying time until more targeted therapies become FDA approved. Some of them look very promising. One available already follows the octreotide to the tumors with a radioactive isotope payload that can kill the tumor cells without harming healthy tissue. A better isotope is now undergoing a Phase III trial at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center.
The most interesting targeted therapies are the T-cell immunotherapies and oncolytic viruses. The T-cell therapy trains your own immune system to fight the tumors. The oncolythic virus therapy uses a custom virus that finds the tumor cell and kills it, releasing copies that attack nearby tumor cells. A test of this virus at the University of Uppsala in Sweden has proven effective in mice. Researchers are seeking funds to begin Phase I trials in humans
. Unfortunately, these "miracle cures" are years away. We should pray that they become available soon, not just for me, but for many others suffering from cancer.
In mid-July I will be meeting with my surgeons at City of Hope to learn about treatment options. Most likely they will recommend staying the course with octreotide for now. You can continue to pray that it will be effective, and buy me as much time as God's perfect will requires for me to work, and that I will use my time wisely.
Some reasons for my silence have been (1) busy with other writing, (2) the blog software for this site is lousy, buggy, and lacking in features, (3) uncertainties about how many are reading it. I've been questioning whether a blog is the best way to tell the story of my trial. It's time consuming, for one thing, and I'm not sure readers are getting the whole story with occasional bits and pieces in reverse chronological order. The blog software is rigid and inflexible, making it hard to write and hard for readers to find the whole story. I know I spoke of another episode coming up, so I apologize for keeping you in suspense if you were following it. I do intend to write more.
I do have some news to share. Another system administrator I knew at JPL emailed me out of the blue a couple of weeks ago. He had read the trial decision and parts of this blog, and was quite upset by the negative reports about me JPL's lawyers told. He said he had the utmost respect for me and never considered me overbearing or demeaning. "This character assassination of you is completely bogus," he said.
I was glad to hear from this co-worker, Paul, who had been laid off in 2008, not long before my troubles began. We got together for lunch last week in Glendale. He repeated his opinion that he looked up to me as a senior system administrator who was highly regarded by others in the Network and Security Group. Turns out he is also a Christian, and a talented jazz trumpeter with two excellent albums. He gave me one, and I gave him my album Classic Adventures
Paul said he remembered me as a calm person, never angry, never talking down to others. I appreciated his input, telling him that are only a limited number of people who were there and know the facts and characters in the Cassini environment. Because of the costs of deposition, we couldn't afford many character witnesses at trial (just Bruce, Jennifer and Ron). We couldn't call on my Cassini friends to testify without deposing them first. It would have been an imposition on their time and a possible threat to their own jobs to have them testify against their employer. JPL, by contrast, could call on anyone they wanted without deposing them first, and offer them a free day with pay to testify against me. Because of this imbalance, I have been collecting unsolicited positive comments about my work from several JPL co-workers. I would like to share them with you in a future post, just for the record.
Paul corroborated other things from our side of the story, such as the fact that Cassini's Holiday Party had been called "Christmas Party" before 2003 but was changed due to political correctness. He also gave his opinion of the team lead who was selected after I was demoted, saying he was not as qualified as JPL's lawyers made him out to be. He also agreed with my impression that this person was an opportunist. Paul was not surprised that he had testified against me in court. Additionally, Paul corroborated that JPL lied about the importance of Linux being a skill necessary for the future of the Cassini mission. JPL claimed that Linux was essential, and because I was not as knowledgeable about it as another SA, that's why I was ranked low and laid off. Paul and I knew that was false; Cassini had determined to stay on Solaris 10 (a subject I was highly qualified on) till the end of mission. Out of the nearly 200 computers in Cassini, only a couple in one office used Linux, and those two were administered by a part-timer.
Flight: The Genius of Birds
Other Good News
Another good thing that has occupied my time over the last 3 months has been assisting Illustra Media with their latest intelligent design documentary, Flight: The Genius of Birds
(see trailer and ordering information on illustramedia.com
). This latest addition to their growing ID arsenal is really exceptional: cutting-edge science, stunning photography, and a powerful ID message all wrapped in a compelling narration with beautiful music. Illustra's producer, editor and production team have outdone themselves again! This is a film that informs and inspires, like its predecessor Metamorphosis
The Blu-ray edition of Flight
just came out. What a treat of sight and 5.1 surround sound!
My role was science consultant and fact-checker. I discovered some of the amazing facts about hummingbirds, starlings and arctic terns featured in the film, and about bird anatomy. In addition, I spell-checked the script and subtitles, assisted with a photo shoot and some of the interviews, and quality-checked the test disks before publication. Lad Allen wanted to list me as "Associate Producer" in the credits but I talked him out of it, thinking two other mentions (science consultant and board member) was plenty. The credit really goes to Lad Allen and Jerry Harned, two of the finest Christian film producers in the country today.
And thus my story circles round; it was the Illustra films Unlocking the Mystery of Life
and The Privileged Planet
that cost me my job at JPL. Well, if they think these wonderful films are harassing, then chocolate is nauseous and a rose smells putrid. The rest of us know a good thing when we see it. I hope you will support Illustra's great ministry by buying their products and sharing them with the widest audiences you can. Become a fan on their Facebook page
, and order a pile of their films today!
I hope you will be a daily reader of Creation-Evolution Headlines
where I report on news from the science journals each day, adding "color commentary" to liven things up a bit. It has RSS and a Twitter feed @crevinfo. My personal Twitter is @psa104.
Tell next time, thanks for reading, and may God richly bless you!
"Then He [Jesus] spoke a parable to them, that men always ought to pray and not lose heart" (Luke 18:1
With a few of the thousands of images taken by the Cassini spacecraft
: Lazy, incompetent, irresponsible.
Writing these episodes requires going back over painful memories and poring through piles of documents for hours. While others must evaluate the worth of this story, I guess I continue having faith that somehow it mattered that JPL got away with discrimination and retaliation against a hard-working employee who simply tried to share information about intelligent design, The way JPL did it, moreover, was a story of reckless disregard for my rights. It wasn't just that the investigator, Jhertaune, violated JPL's own policies, as I described last time
. (Note, I'm switching from use of initials to first names.) It's that the lab's management and lawyers stood by her to the end, with full knowledge of her reckless, feckless investigation. I hope you will consider this episode entertaining at least, if not informative and motivating.
After interviewing me on March 5, 2009
, Jhertaune interviewed 5 others without my knowledge. My attorney and I got to see her interview notes for the first time in November 2010, seven months after we had filed the lawsuit. After the initial surprise of seeing how few people had complained (and who they were), we began to see a pattern of bias. No wonder; Jhertaune was a liberal herself who had voted against Prop 8, was utterly ignorant of intelligent design, and gravitated toward co-workers who agreed with her. My boss, Greg, had spun the complaint for her: Coppedge was pushing his political and religious views. On the call slip (Exh. 82), she wrote: "Gives him DVD; Prop 8, handed out flyers... Believes in intelligent design – God created."
The first interviewee after me, though, didn't give her the ammunition she was seeking.
Group Supervisor Clark's final group shot, Sept 2010
Jhertaune's interview with Clark, my Group Supervisor, must have been pretty short, because she didn't write down much. What's notable is that she only asked him about intelligent design and politics—mostly about intelligent design. As you read her notes, keep in mind that JPL's lawyers protested that the case had nothing to do with intelligent design—it was all about what a lousy employee I was. Anything about that from my supervisor? Watch also for the H-word harassed:
– Clark states that he has discussed Intelligent Design w/David C and has even purchased some DVDs/CDs from him. Clark has never felt threatened or harassed by David. It was a topic that was casually discussed.
– No cowrkers have complained to Clark about David discussing Intelligent Design w/them nor has he heard it has been discussed w/ his co-wrkers.
– Clark has never witnessed or heard David discuss anything politically related. The political stuff was new info for Clark.
– Clark stated that David told him that he researched NASA information related to religious expression in the wrkplace. Clark states that David does not really understand the claim & wanted to know who complained to Greg.
– Clark was not aware that more than one individual complained about David harassing them during wrk hrs about his political & religious views.
– Per Clark, David does not understand why the individual who complained to Greg did not approach him first. David was under the impression he gave the videos/DVDs to only Christians. [Emphasis added.]
Well, thank you Clark! Thanks for sticking up for me. OK, case closed; false charge, we can all go back to work. Oh, no. Jhertaune needed evidence that this guy was harassing people with "his political & religious views," even though the Group Supervisor, who knew Coppedge well for 12 years, was completely unaware of any complaints. His own experience with the DVDs was comfortable (he bought four). Clark testified at deposition that his own relationship with me was "positive, pleasant." Notice also that Clark said nothing about me being a bad employee, doing poor work, or being unable to get along with people. Of those in the photo above, Jhertaune only interviewed Clark and me, even though I had told her about a co-worker (Bruce, in the photo), to whom I had given a Prop 8 flyer. We had had a respectful conversation about it, even though he disagreed with my views (more on that in a bit). She could have called him for an interview, but she didn't – nor did she call on any of my other close co-workers who would have given favorable reports about me.
Some co-workers at an office party, Sept. 2010
Two other interviewees are in the photo at left: Greg, my office manager (end of table), and Margaret (lower right), the lady who complained about the DVD. But two others were present who supported me on the witness stand at trial: Bruce (standing, center) and Jennifer (upper right).The Boss
My office manager Greg was next in line for Jhertaune's interviews. Since we already know he instigated the harassment complaint, we know what to expect from him. Jhertaune seemed to lap it all right up; it was delicious. Indeed:Margaret came to his office and stated that David Coppedge was harassing her about personal choices in life and she didn't know what to do.... She found him to be very persistent.... Greg mentioned Margaret's complaint about David to Carmen on 3.2.2009 as well. Carmen replied that she and Scott had been bothered by David as as it related to [crossed out] and his religious beliefs. She was not surprised by Margaret's complaint. Greg states that he is tired of all the complaints re:David harassing people w/ his religious viewpoints during business hours.
Greg's animus against my perceived religious views is evident here. But did he say anything about me being a poor worker? In an upcoming post, I'll describe what Greg did a week after this interview to try to get HR to believe I had problems working with people. That's a juicy subplot that will have to wait till next time; just file it away for now. As of March 17, though, he said absolutely nothing about any problems with my work other than allegedly "harassing" people with what he considered "religious viewpoints" (especially intelligent design).
Greg also told Jhertaune that "David had previously tried to get him (Greg) to believe in his religion during wrk hrs. David had left religious material (ie. DVD) in Greg's Inbox
." To the second sentence, I will confess; yes, it is true. On Christmas Eve 2008, I left a friendly Christmas card in his inbox, wishing him well, and inside, I inserted a quicksleeve DVD called The Case for Christ
. Well, you know; it was Christ
mas Eve. Merry Christmas! But for the first sentence, claiming I "tried to get him ... to believe in his religion" during work hours, I flatly deny it. I had put the card in his mailbox at the end of the day, right before the holiday. He must have picked it up even later. Was that "work hours"? Hardly.
It's a really interesting DVD, anyway, highly rated. Lee Strobel, former atheist, turned Christian after researching the historical evidence for Christ and the resurrection, interviewing leading Bible scholars. As a board member of the production company, I'm pretty proud of the film and like people to see it. There's no altar call or hellfire sermonizing at the end; Strobel merely asks the viewer to consider the evidence seriously, and make it a priority. Why would I give this to Greg? I knew from his uncle that he had grown up in a Christian home but had rejected his family's faith in college. So yes, I thought Christmastime might be a good time for him to reconsider the evidence. Incidentally, Greg testified that he never watched it. He just assumed the DVD must be my attempt to convert him. He was "tired of all the complaints re:David harassing people w/his religious viewpoints during business hours.
" What did he mean by "all the complaints"? Did Jhertaune ask for evidence to back up his broad-brush accusations? None. Greg stated twice, as if a settled fact, that I harassed people. Jhertaune, our trusty investigator, never questioned his conclusory statements.
Watching first Titan images arrive, July 2, 2004
Content or Conduct?
The last three interviews were conducted in rapid succession on March 19th and 20th. And again – not one of them complained about my work habits or technical competence. It was only "religion and politics" Jhertaune was digging for. Strangely, only Carmen used the word "harassed," and that was about something 6 years earlier that made her feel "uncomfortable," though she never let on to me how she felt. (Hint: it too was about Christmas.)
Margaret told Jhertaune that she had felt "uncomfortable" (not harassed) about the topics I had brought up – not the manner in which I broached them. This became a huge point of controversy at trial: was it the content, or the conduct? The material, or the manner? At the discipline meeting, and later at trial, management and counsel tried their hardest to push the "conduct" angle, but they had a wicked time trying to identify any particular manner I had committed that was inappropriate. On the contrary, Jhertaune's notes speak only about content:
Margaret stated that she was thinking while being asked this question by David, that she probably should not talk about political issues during wrk hrs.... Margaret did not want to get into a discussion w/ David about the DVD so she waited until he was not in his work space to place it on his chair.... She further expressed to Greg that she does not want to deal w/ him re: these type of issues.... Margaret further states that David is nice but she feels that he is stepping over the line by discussing religion & politics in the workplace.
Her beef, in other words, was with the very idea of bringing up the subjects of "religion" (which intelligent design is not) or "politics" (though Prop 8 was not about political candidates, but the cultural issue of redefining marriage). So what did I, "nice" person that I am, actually do? What was my harassing manner? Jhertaune recorded her saying that Margaret "did not want to discuss the issue w/ him because he was so persistent." Any good investigator would want to know, "OK, how was he persistent?" Margaret did not describe the conversation in any detail. Jhertaune wrote, "Margaret said that David's approach was, 'Can I talk to you about Prop 8' then had a Prop 8 paper in his hand." So, apparently "persistent" is defined as having a paper in your hand and asking permission to talk about something once in 12 years, even if the entire conversation lasts less than a minute. Jhertaune stood by her claim at trial. I had a paper in my hand. It showed I had an agenda, because I came prepared. At trial, Becker asked her, "When a person has a piece of paper in their hand and they approach somebody, is that a threatening act in your view? A. It depends on the piece of paper and what they're approaching them about." Aha! So it is about content!
Strangely, Margaret also emphasized to Jhertaune twice that she was an "ordained minister (Christian)," adding once, "but would never let David Coppedge know." She did not reveal that her ordination was by proxy through a website for some "Metaphysical Interfaith Church" that endorsed all religions. That's hardly Christian. Jhertaune dutifully wrote it down without asking for any details about whether she had a congregation, a church, or anything else usually associated with ordination.
In her interview, Carmen unloaded her bitterness to Jhertaune, telling her that "she believes that David has an agenda about Christianity once he discovered she was a Christian and was harassed by him." (At trial, she backpedaled, saying she was not sure she had said she was "harassed"—just uncomfortable, feeling "judged" somehow). Carmen gave an example: a Christmas party long, long ago.
For Christmas 2002, at her invitation, I had performed traditional carols at the
Christmas Party on my French horn. Most previous Christmas parties had also been decorated with Christmas colors, and the singing group often adapted Christmas carols to satirize with Cassini lyrics (see example, right).
Performing carols at the 2002 Cassini Christmas Party
The "Holiday Party" Flap
The next year, December, 2003, I asked Carmen why the party was being called a "Holiday Party" instead of a "Christmas Party" as it had been previously. For some reason, the question really upset this woman who claimed to be a Christian. I sent a followup email (Exh. 24) to her and to Greg with a link to an article by Dennis Prager
, a devout Jew, who feels a Christmas Party should be called a Christmas Party, not a Holiday Party. I told Greg and Carmen this was a "small potatoes" issue for me, but I thought they might find it interesting to read about a Jew supporting Christmas parties. I hoped they might consider the logic of his arguments.
Here's what Jhertaune wrote from what Carmen told her: "A couple of years ago (4 to 5 yrs) he demanded that she put the word "Christ" on the Holiday Potluck Invitation flyer. She spoke to Greg about the incident to make it stop."
So according to Carmen, I had "demanded" she not only call it "Christmas" but use the word "Christ" on the party flyer. In deposition and trial testimony, Carmen and Jhertaune both backtracked about those details; Carmen said "I don't recall him asking about 'Christ'. It was from Holiday Party to Christmas." Jhertaune agreed Carmen had said "Christmas" even though she used quote marks around "Christ" in her interview notes and repeated this error two months later in an email to her manager. At trial, the Cassini Program Manager said the name change was to be "politically correct" for the non-religious, but I reminded the judge that Christmas is a federal holiday and very inclusive by its nature; these days it's more about secular festivities, Santa and Frosty the Snowman than about religious themes.Dissembling about DVDs
Two years after the Holiday Party flap, in 2005, Carmen and I were apparently still on good terms. She had cheerfully accepted a DVD copy of The Privileged Planet
and liked it so much, she bought a copy. Two weeks later I loaned her Unlocking the Mystery of Life
. My lending log says she "Liked it very much." Here's what Jhertaune wrote down about that
from Carmen's interview:A couple of years ago, David approached her about the "Intelligent Design" DVD. She watched it as a courtesy and told him it was interesting but nothing more. David did not pursue engaging her in a further discussion about the DVD. He has left her alone recently. Greg assisted w/that issue.
I couldn't win. Carmen told me not only that the DVD was interesting, but that she liked it very much—so much so that she wanted to buy a copy. And even when I "did not pursue engaging her in a further discussion" about it, and "left her alone," I was guilty of persistent harassment? Come on. Carmen also alleged that I "bothered/approached
" other employees about my "religious views" (a veiled reference to the DVDs) but that she referred them to Greg. "Carmen stated that people have complained to her about David in the past but she directed them to Greg for handling
." This was all news to me. Did Jhertaune ask for specifics? Nope. Did Carmen remember any names or specific instances in deposition or at trial? Nope. "It was a long time ago. I don't recall
." Did Greg remember any names? Only Scott (more on him in a bit).
What came across most strongly in Carmen's interview was her umbrage that I would bring up certain topics in the workplace at all
, regardless of conduct or manner. This is similar to what Margaret testified: I was "nice" but I was "stepping over the line
" by even mentioning
certain topics. Jhertaune wrote, "Carmen believes that David is inappropriate and has a passion about getting his point across as it relates to religion. David can't see the line he is crossing when he brings religion in the workplace
." Some imaginary line that JPL does not draw in any of its policies existed in Carmen's mind. True Colors
Yet these two women prided themselves on how tolerant and sensitive they are. An interesting anecdote surfaced at deposition. Being kindred spirits, Carmen and Margaret once traveled together to a training session some distance away, for a class called "True Colors," the purpose of which is to facilitate communication in the workplace. The thesis was that if people knew the interaction styles of others, represented by four "colors," they could reduce tensions, avoid conflicts, understand one another and interact more comfortably. Having been "certified" as instructors of the course, they put it on several times for Cassini staff—sometimes together, sometimes Margaret alone. This became hilarious at deposition when Bill Becker asked Margaret why she didn't try to ascertain my
color. "Q: Based on your skill and certification in teaching courses in True Colors, which deals with interpersonal communication skills, why did you not apply the rules or techniques of True Colors to determine how best to deal with David before reporting him to a supervisor? A: I don't know Dave that well, and I didn't feel comfortable talking to him... I don't know. I just didn't feel comfortable."
Go figure. Twelve years' acquaintance with me in the same office, in weekly team lead meetings most of that time, and she didn't know me well enough use her self-proclaimed expertise in communication techniques and her religious ordination to reduce tension, avoid conflicts, and interact in a comfortable way about a DVD? This was rich.
interview, the final one conducted by Jhertaune, was brief. Scott was a Cassini scientist I had gotten to know. Occasionally I would stop by and ask what new discoveries his spacecraft instrument was making. He testified that he thought I was a nice guy; we both enjoyed these discussions. Once in 2005 I loaned him The Privileged Planet
; turns out he never watched it, but he didn't complain or think it was inappropriate to offer it, even though he testified he thinks "intelligent design" is the same as "creationism"—to him, a religious view and "not science." Had he ever read anything about intelligent design? Nope. Somehow he just knew.
What Jhertaune needed was a juicy story about the Prop 8 argument in November 2008. It "was the 1st time he had been approached by David about his religions and/or political beliefs
," she wrote from what he told her. Here is his version of the incident the way she recorded it: Scott stated that David approached him one day during wrk hrs (during the national elections) and asked if he could talk to him about Proposition 8. Scott stated that they had chatted about sports in prior occassions [sic] so he did not think much of it and agreed to what he thought would be a short discussion. Scott stated that David discussed his viewpoint on the Proposition and asked if Scott agreed. When Scott replied that he did not agree David became more passionate about his viewpoint and kept going on about his personal views. Scott thought that David was going to stop but he keep [sic] talking and was becoming increasingly upset about Scott's stance on Prop 8. Per Scott, David at one point stated, "he must be against having children." Scott had to ask David to leave his office and he left. The next Day, David approached Scott and apologized for his behavior and stated that he did not want their heated conversation to come between them. Scott accepted his apology. Scott told David that you have your opinion and I have mine."
The facts of what actually happened became clearer when Scott and Jhertaune had to defend their comments under oath at deposition and at trial. Scott admitted that I didn't say "he must be against having children" but rather "he must be against children"—i.e., my concern was about the effect on children if Prop 8 were to lose. Scott never testified that he felt insulted by that comment, but JPL's lawyers claimed I insulted him. Scott testified that he understood that I was making the argument that Prop 8 would be harmful to kids. He didn't say I became angry or passionate; only that I had an "incredulous look" at his reaction. He also reaffirmed that he had agreed to the discussion. What he didn't tell Jhertaune was that he called my views "propaganda" – and that he meant it in a disparaging way. He told Jhertaune that he accepted my apology, but he didn't tell her he stood up to shake my hand in appreciation. Here's my version I told to my managers in the 4/13/09 discipline meeting (Exh. 102). Remember that I was unaware of Jhertaune's interview of Scott and had not discussed Prop 8 with him again after the argument.
I was just, you know, offering him some information to read. He chose to get angry about it and started arguing about it. I - I would have just left it right there except that he wanted to talk about it and kind of put me on the defensive. He didn't say this is unwelcome or disruptive. Yes, it got a little bit animated to the point where I thought, you know, I want to affirm to him that he's a friend even if he doesn't agree with me, and I went to him the next day and told him that. He spontaneously stood up and shook my hand.
Readers can judge for themselves what must have happened. Fact is, men sometimes get into mutually heated disagreements about things. That's what happened here. It wasn't personal, just animated. I had never disagreed with Scott about anything before. We were casual friends. In this argument, though, I felt Scott was wrong; he felt I was wrong, so we each wanted to get our points into the discussion. We both thought each other started the argument. Shouldn't the benefit of the doubt go to the guy who returns and apologizes for his part, trying to mend the friendship? Scott accepted and appreciated my initiative so much so that he reached out and shook my hand. I never brought up Prop 8 with him again. He testified at deposition, "I had no ill will towards David. I did not -- I just wanted the situation to go away. I had no desire to see him get into any trouble at all about it." That should have been the end of it, but this incident became JPL's Exhibit A (so to speak) of my misdeeds.
My attorney Bill Becker took Jhertaune to task for "editorializing" in her interview notes. Remember, "The purpose of the Investigation is to determine the facts relating to the complaint
." Instead, Jhertaune used inflammatory language to state the complainers' feelings
, accepting their generalities with no follow-up questions to explore the factual basis for those feelings. Why did she write that Scott "had to" ask me to leave his office? Why did she write that I became more "passionate,' but Scott did not? Why did she write that I "kept going on and on," that I was becoming "increasingly upset"? Why didn't she try to ascertain who started the argument?
Why didn't she call the other witness (Bruce) I told her about? Bruce also disagreed with my Prop 8 views, but we had a respectful dialogue that was overheard by Jennifer, who testified about it in court. Asked what the tone of that conversation was, she said, "It was quiet, very polite, courteous, very respectful. And I remember that because I remember thinking how just observing and noticing how polite and cordial and courteous the whole conversation was and how courteous David was toward Bruce, very nondisruptive
." Jhertaune failed to gather exculpatory evidence like this, but displayed bias during the investigation and after. In a later email to her manager (Exh. 116) on May 6, Jhertaune wrote that I was "ranting and raving
" during the argument with Scott (remember, all her knowledge was second-hand). Becker asked her about her use of inflammatory language. Her excuse was that she didn't record everything verbatim; she was only writing a "synopsis" of the story. That's not an excuse. A synopsis doesn't have to be inflammatory.
Let's recount some of the ways that Jhertaune botched the investigation. Incidentally, she was a substitute. A lady named Nancy was supposed to run investigations for my section, but was out on jury duty, so Jhertaune took the call. We don't know if the investigation would have gone any better with Nancy. One thing we do know is that Nancy was useless as a witness. Her memory was so bad that at deposition she could not remember anything. We also know that none of the HR ladies had ever encountered a situation like mine before – and Jhertaune testified she had conducted "800 to a thousand" investigations. (Scary thought: she testified that she ran all her investigations like this one.)
In the last post I listed 12 specific JPL procedural steps Jhertaune disobeyed. Here are another dozen things she did wrong:
• Failed to answer my question about what procedure she was following; lied to me and Clark that "there is no procedure"
• Failed to check if the witnesses' accusations conformed to JPL's definition of harassment
• Failed to consider the ideological biases of the witnesses
• Failed to gather exculpatory evidence from favorable witnesses
• Failed to investigate Greg for creating a hostile work environment
• Failed to take seriously my complaint that my civil rights had been violated
• Failed to question the witnesses about factual details of their accusations
• Failed to use unbiased language in her notes
• Failed to include her HR managers in the process, with one brief exception*
• Failed to produce a report in writing
• Failed to look at the DVDs to see if they "pushed religion"
• Failed to determine if intelligent design is religious
For that last bullet point, Jhertaune made a weak attempt. She testified that she "Googled" intelligent design. Here is the extent of her education: "Q. What did you Google? What did you come up with? A. A web site with different publications. I can't recall the exact titles. I do remember that Kirk Cameron, the actor, was a part of the web site, and religion was discussed." She could have spent one hour to watch the DVD I offered her, and heard from the leading lights of the ID movement, but no. She came to equate ID with Kirk Cameron. And why not? It supported her predetermined narrative: I had harassed people with religion, just like Greg said.
On the witness stand, at deposition and trial, Jhertaune qualified for the Dodgers. She was a master of delay and evasion. Bill couldn't ask a question without her asking what he meant: e.g., "Q. Did you provide your attorney with that report you just referred to? A. Can you clarify 'report'?" He could not get a straight answer out of her, to the point of frustration. She would hear a question and stare at the ceiling for 20-30 seconds before saying she didn't understand the question. No matter how clear and pointed his questions, she would resort to her standard talking points. She would dissemble, at one moment saying the subjects I discussed were causing the harassment, and at other times it was the manner. How HR and JPL's lawyers could stand by this gal is beyond me.
My building is a National Historic Landmark
It's not extreme to say that this one woman, with her feckless investigation, cost me my job. I believe I would still be working at JPL (or would be on paid disability for cancer treatments) with any fair-minded investigator who actually obeyed JPL's written policies and procedures. Jhertaune ran the entire investigation alone. It consisted of only these sloppily-conducted interviews. She decided on her own that I deserved a Final Written Warning.* She wrote the warning and delivered it to my managers, who testified that they relied on her 100%. Then later, when I appealed the disciplinary decision, she ran the appeal, too! She wrote the "verbiage" for my Section Manager to send me. Though prompted by Greg and Margaret, It was all her show—beginning to end. The outcome could have been so different. She could have told Greg he was out of line to lodge a harassment complaint on flimsy evidence. She could have seriously investigated him
about creating a hostile work environment and denying my civil rights. It's astonishing the power invested in HR workers who have reached their level of incompetence. Everyone trusted Jhertaune's investigation—my Group Supervisor, my Section Manager, the other HR staff and managers, and JPL's laywers. Becker said in his closing statement, "This was an unbalanced, unfair investigation meant to achieve a result and it did
Readers may get a kick out of a post on Evolution News & Views
where they compared Jhertaune's style to that of a frustrating bureaucrat. Watch the embedded video skit, "DMV Tyrant," to see how I felt trying to get justice out of HR.
*Footnote: There was only one point in the investigation where another HR manager intruded herself into Jhertaune's decisions. Karen, the manager of employee relations, received merely a verbal report from Jhertaune about the investigation. Karen thought Jhertaune's solution (a Final Written Warning, the last step before termination) was too severe, so she told her to reduce it to just a Written Warning. Karen also spent an hour with me during the appeal process to "just have a conversation," claiming that's all an appeal was. (Even so, she left all the decisions to Jhertaune.) Unfortunately, when we called Karen before trial to ask about these, her memory was poor, too, so she was unable to provide much useful information, except that she agreed HR was a bureaucratic mess run by an autocratic woman not open to new ideas. By December 2009, Karen had been laid off from JPL herself in what she considered an unfair manner, and was working elsewhere when we found her number. The information she gave was revealing but too vague to be useful, so we did not call her as a witness.
_______________________________________The Plot Thickens
Just when Jhertaune was finishing up her investigation in late March, Greg was scheming to make sure I would be moved off Cassini immediately, if not fired outright. We'll learn the explosive story about his "strategy" with HR next time.Encore: Golden Moments Under Oath: Becker Nails the Witnesses
Bill Becker had a knack for needling a witness when he sniffed hypocrisy or dissembling. JPL's lawyers got really mad at him when he hit some raw nerves with his carefully-aimed questions. Here are some choice moments.
Carmen's deposition, 2/22/11: "Q. Is there any reason why you have not told David, 'religion and conversations about it make me uncomfortable, David. Please don't bring them up"? A. Because I'm a very courteous person and politely move myself away from the situation where I don't have to talk about it anymore. Q. Was it courteous of you to report him to his superiors so he would lose his job? Ms. Fox: Counsel, that's inappropriate, and you're staring down the witness. Stop it. We're going to take a break."
Margaret's deposition, 2/28/11: "Q. Are you tolerant of other people's religious faiths? A. I believe myself to be tolerant of other people's viewpoints, whether it's religion or any other subject. ... Q. Did you ever consider taking the DVD back to David directly and thanking him but telling him that it wasn't something you were interested in looking at? A. ... I -- I don't remember -- No. Q. That never crossed your mind? A. No. Q. Wouldn't that have been the sensitive thing to do? Ms. Fox: Objection. Argumentative. Vague as to "sensitive." Harassing. ... Q. Wouldn't that have been the sensitive thing to do? A. Depends on your interpretation of "sensitive." Q. Well, rather than cost him his job, let's say. Wouldn't that have been the sensitive thing to do, to go up to him and say, "David, I don't want any sparks to come between us. This isn't an issue I care about. But thank you for loaning me the DVD"? Wouldn't that have been the sensitive thing to do? Ms. Fox: Objection. Assumes facts. Objection to the preamble. Argumentative. A. I didn't feel comfortable doing that. Q. Because you're very tolerant, aren't you, and very sensitive? Why wouldn't you think of that? Ms. Fox: Counsel, you're being argumentative. Mr. Becker: No, I'm not. Ms. Fox: You are. The witness: I didn't."
Scott's deposition, 2/22/11: "Q: Do you believe it is proper to discriminate against somebody because of their sincerely held religious beliefs? [objections] A. It is wrong to discriminate. Q. And when you discriminate, it's a violation of somebody's civil rights, isn't that right? [objections] A. I -- it is wrong to discriminate. Q. Were you as concerned about the rights of Christians and other people -- other religious people in connection with Proposition 8? [objections] Do you understand the question? A. No, I do not. Q. Well, you were concerned about the rights of people who fall in love -- no matter what their gender, they have the right to be married, right? [objections] A. Whatever a couple decides to do is their own decision to make. Q. A consenting couple? A. I would hope so. Q. An adult couple? A. Yes. Q. You don't advocate pedophilia, do you? A. No. Q. You don't advocate polygamy, do you? A. No. Q. So there are some things people are not allowed to do when it comes to marriage; right? [objections] A. Please repeat the question. Q. Well, do you believe that four people who are in love with each other should be married? ... Do you believe in polygamy? A. I don't believe it. Some people do. Q. Don't polygamists have civil rights to marry whomever they love? Ms. Fox: Asked and answered. Improper opinion. Legal conclusion. A. That is up to society to decide. Q. And it's up to society to decide if gays can get married; right? A. Yes. Q. And that's why the constitutional initiative was on the ballot; right? A. I do not know why it was on the ballot.
There's a scene in a movie about the Spanish Inquisition in which a young, inexperienced monk is shocked when the senior inquisitor orders soldiers to capture or kill all the friars at a monastery suspected of sheltering heretics. "That violates the Church's own rules!" he exclaims. The senior inquisitor just chuckles at his naivete, and responds, "My son, you wouldn't want the arm of the Church weakened by a mere 'technicality,' would you?"
Cassini group photo at time of launch, October 1997. My position marked with red circle.
In my last blog entry, The HR Investigation Begins
, I described JPL's investigation from my vantage point. You won't believe what was going on behind the scenes at Human Resources (HR). It's a tale of ignorance, scrambling, and a callous disregard for the rights of the accused. Basically, one woman, JH, ran the whole show, violating JPL's own documented policy and procedure all along the way. I'm getting to the HR saga in a future episode, but first, it would be good to see what HR should have done,
according to their own published rules.
What good is a policy or procedure if it is not followed? JPL has a large repository of P&P documents. JPL's Unlawful Harassment Policy (Exhibit 193) contains a three-page section called "Procedures for Investigating and Resolving Unlawful Harassment Complaints at JPL
." This section lays out what an investigator like JH must do. The rights of the accused (the "respondent") are protected when the "complainant" lodges an accusation. Yet look at all the steps that were violated in my case:
1. "An employee who believes he or she has been subjected to harassment, including sexual harassment, should review JPL's policy."
(Emphasis added.) None of the accusers (MW, and the others who were brought in after the witch hunt for complaints, CV, SE) did this, nor did JH ask them to do it. Nor did she question them to see if their complaints matched JPL's clearly-stated definition of harassment. We'll examine that definition in a future post, but for now, take note that harassment is not the same thing as having a disagreement, or bringing up a controversial subject, including politics or religion – neither of which violates JPL policy.
2. "In general, the goal of the informal options Is to quickly end offending behavior without utilizing disciplinary action."
Well, that didn't happen! I was given no informal option-- it went straight from the word of the accusers to formal disciplinary action. MW could have talked to me, talked to the Ombuds office, or used a friend to talk to me. When she went to my office manager GC, he could have given me an informal warning. But even when I obeyed his unreasonable order to stop sharing DVDs or stop talking to anybody about intelligent design, he reported me to HR the very next morning. I didn't even know who my accusers were till 19 months later! I was told that "a lot of people" had complained when there were only three, actually only one, because neither of the others lodged a harassment complaint specifically. Even MW testified she only went to GC for advice; she did not ask him to take any action. GC took her word "harassed" (translation: "uncomfortable") and ran to HR with it.
3. "Formal complaints of harassment can be made orally or in writing, but if made orally should, in the end, be reduced to writing."
This step should happened before
discipline was administered. JH should have told me clearly, "David, you have been accused of harassment, and we are conducting an investigation." She failed to do that, leaving me under the impression she was trying to reconcile me with my boss (see The HR Investigation Begins
). She further failed to realize that none of the three "complainers" had actually issued a complaint, formally or informally, desiring action be taken. I was shocked when a Written Warning was handed to me on April 13, because I did not even know I had been accused.
4. "Within a reasonable length of time the accused party ("the respondent") will be notified of the nature of the complaint, and an investigation will begin."
5. "The purpose of the Investigation is to determine the facts relating to the complaint."
As we will see, facts were sorely lacking to support a harassment complaint. JH failed to seek or consider extenuating evidence that would have exonerated me from the accusations. At deposition and trial, my attorney needled JH for what FACTS
she had that I had violated JPL's harassment policy. She waffled, dodged, and dissembled, focusing only on how the three accusers "felt" about me, not what I had actually done
. For instance, as I described last time, MW took the DVD cheerfully and thanked me for it. It was only at home that she felt "uncomfortable" that I would share "personal views" of a "religious" nature (her perception, not reality) at work (see The Agenda, the Tracking Sheet and the Infamous Sticky Note
). But rather than talk to me about it, she tattled, telling GC she "felt harassed" and "uncomfortable." Any unbiased observer would surely have called that an emotional overreaction, but JH used the complainers' feelings
as factual evidence!
6. "Because of the sensitive nature of these investigations, he or she will consult with General Counsel for legal assistance in investigative techniques, in applying legal standards regarding harassment, and in determining the JPL's legal duties and obligations."
There is no evidence JH did this. Instead, there are emails showing that her colleagues at HR were scrambling behind the scenes trying to figure out what to do. None of them had ever seen a case like this before. JPL's "legal duties and obligations" should have included due process
and protection of the rights of the accused
7. "The complainant and respondent will be informed of the relevant procedures, and will have an opportunity to comment on the suitability of the investigator(s)."
This was egregiously violated. I repeatedly asked JH for the procedure she was following, but got the runaround four times between March 6 and April 9! Then I asked the Section Manager and Group Supervisor for the procedure, and got the runaround again. (There was no indication that the complainers were "informed of the relevant procedures," either.) As for commenting on the suitability of the investigator, violated again: I didn't even know it was an investigation, let alone having a chance to comment about JH's suitability. JH tried to wiggle out of this on the witness stand by claiming HR has a limited staff and can't let the employee choose. Is that an excuse for violating the written procedure? Incidentally, for a case this unfamiliar to her, JH could have asked for help or a committee to be formed. She did not. She basically ran the whole show, as ignorant of intelligent design as a zombie.
8. "The complainant and respondent shall be given the opportunity to present their cases separately to the investigator(s) and to suggest others who might be interviewed."
Another violation of my rights. JH interviewed me, but never told me this. I could have given her a long list of character witnesses to vouch for my integrity had she obeyed this step. She did not interview a single individual who gave a favorable opinion of me, save for my Group Supervisor who did tell her that he never had a problem with my DVDs. (Because he was my line manager, she would have interviewed him anyway.) As a matter of fact, I did mention one co-worker who was NOT offended by a conversation on Prop 8. He knew me well. He could have provided testimony I was not a harassing kind of person. JH failed to call him, or anyone else who might have contradicted the narrative she was building.
9. "All parties who participate in investigative interviews may submit written statements."
I was never notified of this right. I did submit some "show and tell" documents at the interview (see The HR Investigation Begins
), but those were without the knowledge that a formal harassment complaint had been lodged against me. Had I known that, I could have written a full treatise. But even then, I would have been hobbled without knowing who was accusing me of what.
10. "The investigator(s) will summarize for the respondent the evidence in support of the complaint to allow the respondent the opportunity to reply."
Huge violation! I never heard of the evidence (if there even was any) till we filed our lawsuit a year later and got discovery documents seven months after that. It went straight from accusation to discipline before I knew what hit me. JH admitted on the stand that she did not return to me to give me a chance to reply. She felt she didn't have to, because the complainers were talking about their "feelings" and I, not being them, could not respond to their "feelings" (cf. #5). But I surely could have responded to any "evidence in support of the complaint" had there been any. We found out from JH's interview notes that several specific accusations had been made I didn't know about. I should have had a chance to respond to them. HR was so concerned that I might somehow retaliate against the accuser(s) if I knew who he/she/it/them was, they didn't even tell me how many there were! (Note: retaliation is not my style.)
11. "Exceptions to or modification of these procedures can be made by the Manager of Employee Relations, if required for fairness or practical necessity. Exceptions must be made in writing and notice provided to both the complainant and respondent."
Another huge violation. This gives the lie to the notion that HR has leeway to change the process as it goes. If JH needed to make an exception, it had to be in writing, and I was supposed to be told about it.
12. "Likewise, if the complainant is found to have brought charges without any basis or without a reasonable, good faith belief that a basis existed, appropriate sanctions will be Imposed on the complainant."
This is to protect the accused from baseless complaints and put fear into the hearts of would-be slanderers. JH never substantiated the accusations made by MW, CV or SE with facts, but did any of them get reprimanded for making false accusations? No. In fact, they all still have their jobs at JPL to this day. For attempting to defend my rights, I was kicked out the door.
A large American flag flies 24x7 above JPL's Administration Building
Look at all these "mere technicalities" JPL violated! This was a gross miscarriage of justice. Yet Judge Hiroshige let JPL's attorneys get away with it, citing precedent that an organization's policies and procedures do not have the force of law. Well, they should have force of American traditions of due process and protecting the rights of the accused. Instead, courts give organizations like JPL license to violate their own published policies with reckless abandon. Why even have a policy?
Trying to Get Justice
JH lied to my Group Supervisor (CB) and me that "there is no procedure" that she had to follow. She told me that on the phone right before the discipline meeting. During the discipline meeting on April 13 (Exhibit 102, page 5), CB said,
"[JH] called me this morning and said there is nothing written down as far as procedure for them to follow other than investigating what's in these ... rules here." Coppedge: "...I find it hard to believe that an institution as, you know, large as JPL does not have written procedures for investigating employees. And that's what I've been requesting for a month now, and no one wiII give it to me. [CB]: Well, [JH] reminded me that she told you that they don't have anything. [Coppedge] She said that on Thursday. [April 9]. [CB]: Yeah, she reminded me today that they had nothing written on that as far as what they go through as an organization." '
Consider the irony of JH's direct lie. CB had just handed me the Written Warning for harassment, and with it, a copy of JPL's Unlawful Harassment Policy, with the Procedure for Investigating Unlawful Harassment Complaints right there! I should have opened it up right then, held it up in front of the two managers, and said, "Then what's this?"
Better late than never. Three months later (July 7) while pursuing my appeal, I took a closer look at the Harassment Policy and found all the procedural violations listed above. I met with CB and showed them to him, reading them aloud and highlighting them in his presence. I documented his reaction later in an email to myself (Exhibit 130):
[CB] could not answer any of these things. Here was a written procedure, in black and white, right before his eyes, and he had to agree that I made some substantive points. He offered no reason why HR had not followed the steps outlined in the procedure. He wondered if maybe they were just guidelines, but I showed him (point  above) that it appears it is a binding document, because any changes to it had to be made in writing.... Again, [CB] appeared thoughtful about what I was telling him and offered no explanation.
So with this revelation in his hands, did CB get on the phone to HR and say, "You guys screwed up!"? No. He did nothing.
Exhibit 130 was the only record of that conversation written contemporary with the events, but JPL's lawyers succeeded in keeping it out of evidence on the grounds it was "hearsay."
Discovered: The Warriors Against ID
Discovery documents in Nov 2010 finally showed my attorney and me what had been going on behind the scenes. It was so careless it would have been humorous had it not cost me my job. We also got hold of emails between JH and her colleagues in HR, showing nearly everyone in that department to be clueless about the procedures. Each of them testified that they had never encountered a situation like this. They didn't know what to do, so JH made it up as she went, and the others just said ho-hum and let her get away with it. That's justice, JPL style.
Also, my attorney and I finally learned who the accusers were, and we got to read JH's handwritten interview notes. After JH interviewed me on March 5, 2009, she interviewed two of my managers and the three complainers. When I learned that MW, CV, and SE were the only ones who had complained, I was dumbstruck; "You've got to be kidding," was my immediate reaction. These were coworkers I had known for years and considered friends. We were all cordial with one another. I had been told that a lot of people had complained about me. I had visualized a mighty battle between a league of Darwinian scientists and me, the lone supporter of intelligent design. (In a future post, I will provide clues that the scientists were, indeed, unhappy a "creationist" was in their midst. Indeed, the Program Manager himself testified that he believed my DVDs were "pushing religion" and he spoke of "general hallway conversation" about them.)
It was actually a bit of a letdown to see that only a librarian (MW), a secretary (CV) and one scientist (SE) were interviewed--and the scientist was primarily upset about Prop 8 (more on that later). CV was more upset about years-old perceptions regarding my Christian beliefs than intelligent design. But one thing all the interviewees, my boss, JH, and the Program Manager had in common was a pitiful ignorance of what intelligent design is, with no desire at all to learn about it. And with the possible exception of my Group Supervisor and Section Manager, who merely rubberstamped the investigation without doing any fact checking of their own, they were all political leftists, proud of their "tolerance."
I trust the irony of that last sentence was not lost on you.
In my cubicle 3 months before getting fired. This is where I had picked up HR's call.
The day after my boss's tirade about intelligent design
(3/3/09), I got a friendly call from a lady at Human Resources (HR). In hindsight, wow -- was I ever naive. I thought HR was trying to help me.
A lady with initials JH said that she had heard about a conversation with my boss, and wanted to talk to me about it. She gave no indication of her real purpose. I thought, great; she wants to help my boss and me reconcile. An appointment was set up for a couple of days later. She would hear my side, I presumed, then hear his side, and then help us work out an agreeable resolution. I was all for that. Let's come to an understanding and make peace, then proceed with our work.
Something about this appointment did raise my antennas, though, so I decided to come prepared to defend my sharing of DVDs on intelligent design. I gathered some "show and tell" material, including copies of the DVDs, my lending log
, and a statement describing my practice of sharing them: that it was infrequent, usually at the end of work before a weekend, and contained scientific (not religious) material of great interest to everyone. I also collected several statements by prominent scientists and philosophers that supported intelligent design (ID) as science. Then I made a long list of JPL press releases on evolution that made philosophical claims about the origin and fate of the universe, life and humanity that went far beyond any scientific evidence. I figured if JPL can talk about these subjects openly, I could, too--even if some people find it controversial or uncomfortable. The subject of origins should be fair game at JPL.
A trusted colleague also found a copy of a document called "Guidelines on Religious Expression in the Federal Workplace
" posted on another NASA center's website, along with "Questions and Answers: Religious Discrimination in the Workplace
". These were very interesting documents. I didn't believe ID was religious, of course, but since my boss did, he should have respected my right of expression. The guidelines seemed to clearly justify what I had done as within my rights--even to the point of "proselytizing" (however that is defined). For instance, it states:Many religions strongly encourage their adherents to spread the faith by persuasion and example at every opportunity, a duty that can extend to the adherents' workplace. As a general matter, proselytizing is entitled to the same constitutional protection as any other form of speech. Therefore, in the governmental workplace, proselytizing should not be singled out because of its content for harsher treatment than nonreligious expression. (Bold added.)
The guidelines, written in 1997 to clarify existing law, clearly err on the side of freedom of expression. Sharing a DVD about ID, therefore, even if deemed religious
, should have been protected activity. I want to discuss this document more later. It became a key focus of legal wrangling about whether JPL was obliged to follow these guidelines. (Note: I found that the NASA Glenn Research Center has since removed this document from their website. Was it because of my case?)
With Cassini managers, watching Saturn images arrive, June 30, 2004
So I came to the HR meeting prepared, I thought, to show that sharing DVDs on ID was within my rights. I was greeted by a middle-aged black lady with initials JH, who welcomed me into a small conference room. Once again, she only stated she had heard about the conversation with my boss and wanted to ask me some questions. Still under the impression this was a reconciliation meeting, I laid it all out on the table, talking with her for about an hour, showing my materials and describing what had happened. I offered her the chance to watch the DVDs and see whether they contained a religious message. She looked at them but did not take them. I showed her the lending log, my other papers, and explained clearly how I thought my boss had violated my civil rights by restricting my speech.
Mostly quiet and expressionless, JH dutifully took notes on a pad of paper and asked a few more questions. For instance, she wanted to know if I had ever talked to co-workers about politics. I racked my brain, and did think of some rare instances. A couple of times, I told her, I had looked up judges on the ballot and offered a few nearby co-workers information about them. They appreciated it, I said, because most people know nothing about judge candidates. I told her I had passed out a few flyers on California Proposition 8 (the marriage initiative now before the Supreme Court) before the 2008 election. I said I had one respectful conversation with a co-worker BE who disagreed with my position, but got into an argument with another co-worker SE when he started criticizing my position after I gave him the flyer and briefly described it. I told her how the next day I had returned to SE and apologized for allowing the discussion to become heated. even though it had been a mutual exchange, with neither of us making personal attacks or insults-- it was just a strong disagreement about the facts and arguments about the proposition. When I apologized, he spontaneously stood up and shook my hand. That should have been the end of it. I never brought up the subject with him since. That argument, I would later learn, became a key piece of evidence used against me.
Let this be a warning to all about answering questions truthfully. I learned this the hard way, especially in depositions. There are wise and foolish ways to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth. If I had known that JH was investigating me on harassment charges, that would have changed the complexion of our meeting dramatically. I would have realized that I have the presumption of innocence, and the burden of proof was on HR to prove otherwise. Thinking that she was there to help me reconcile with my boss, being the transparent kind of guy I am, with nothing to hide, I volunteered all kinds of details about things unrelated to her questions. When you are being accused of something, realize that simple, truthful answers are all that is required. Let the investigator do the work. Answer: (1) Yes, (2) No, (3) I don't know, or (4) I don't remember. Answer only the amount of detail that is asked. If a question seems too probing, or you don't understand it, or it is vague or ambiguous, ask for clarification before answering it.
In front of my building, leading a JPL tour (2004)
At the end of the interview, I asked what would happen next. She said she would be talking to my boss and would get back to me. This was all fine and good, I felt; I was glad HR was helping resolve the dispute with my boss.Policies and Procedures
The next day, though, I started having some worries about that interview. I emailed JH and requested 3 things: (1) a copy of GC's account of the March 2 meeting, (2) a copy of the JPL "procedure for conflict resolution, of which yesterday's meeting was a part," and (3) a statement whether JPL follows the same Guidelines on Religious Expression that I had found on the NASA-Glenn website. She called back and said she couldn't give me GC's version
, but that she would get back to me on the others. Soon she emailed me the link to JPL's "Problem Resolution Policy," but said she would have to do further research on #3.
What happened next gave me real concern. I waited and waited, and still did not hear anything. A simple reconciliation between two parties should have been a quick process. Twelve days after the interview, I asked if she had any news for me. No response. I stopped in my group supervisor's office to see if he knew what was going on. He opened his eyes wide and said that JH was "talking to a lot of people about you." I was stunned. Something was going on that was bigger than I realized. When I asked for more information, I was informed that when JH finishes her investigation, I would find out.
I also noticed that my boss GC had been acting especially cool toward me. Perhaps that's understandable after his tirade, but I was still Team Lead and had to interact with him daily on work-related matters. It seemed that whenever I offered a suggestion, he would rebuff it with answers like, "Why do we need that?" I offered a tutorial on a technical subject for anyone interested but he disputed its value. Then I got my annual review on April 1, and noticed, for the first time, he had written several paragraphs of negative comments about my presumed inability to get along with people.
JPL has an extensive online library of Policies and Procedures called JPL Rules. On April 9, I decided to read the "Problem Resolution Policy" JH had sent and realized there was a serious misunderstanding. That policy was dependent on an employee filing a complaint. I wrote her,Thank you for the link to the "Problem Resolution" document #27052. I'm a little confused, though, after reading it. It seems to refer to grievances instigated by the employee. I never filed a grievance. As far as I know, this matter was elevated
to HR by [GC]. Are we working through the grievance process, or some other process? If it's this one, rm not sure what stage we are in. If you can help me out, I would appreciate it. Also, did you have a chance to find the answer to my earlier question #3?
Notice how I was very concerned about the process she was following. Way back on March 5, JH should have known that. I had asked for JPL's "procedure for conflict resolution, of which yesterday's meeting was a part
," making it clear I wanted to know what she
was doing; I figured something this important would have a documented procedure. She had sent me an unrelated document that had nothing to do with her activity! She made that very clear in a voice mail later that afternoon:Hi David, this is [JH]; I received your email this afternoon and I wanted to respond to you, that when you initially asked for a conflict resolution procedure, the only thing we have even similarly close to conflict resolution is Problem Resolution, which was given to you I believe by myself and also [WH] gave you the information as well, so as I have been told, but no; it does not have anything to do with the Investigation that has taken place based upon the issue that was brought to our attention by [GC]. So they're two totally separate things, and maybe I misread the email and got a little bit confused, but whatever the case may be, I wanted to clarify so there won't be any misunderstanding, that they are two totally separate
issues. If you have any further questions, by all means, give me a call. I'll be leaving in just a little bit from here and also, I believe you had another question; I'm not sure what it was, I don't have the email in front of me, but anywho, if you have any other questions give me a call back. Thanks, bye. (Bold added.)
This was the first time I heard HR use the word "investigation." I was being accused when I thought this was about reconciliation and defending my
civil rights. Notice how vague JH was: she mentioned "the investigation that has taken place" based on "the issue that was brought to our attention" by my boss. What issue? An investigation into what? I was never told I was being investigated for harassment--a serious charge! Notice also how she cared nothing about my civil rights. One would think a black person would appreciate the seriousness of that. Four times I had asked her if JPL abides by the Guidelines on Religious Expression, and here a month later she couldn't even remember the question!An Unusual Invitation
That morning (April 9), I had received an unusual meeting invitation from my Section Manager, KK. It was rare for me to see him at all, but a couple of years prior, we had hit it off well in a one-on-one "get acquainted" meeting when he came on board. I noticed he included his Deputy and my Group Supervisor in the meeting request for April 13. I accepted, but asked what it was regarding. He sent this evasive answer: "We're following up with you regarding your recent discussions with HR." This lit off sirens in my mind. I wanted to know what on earth was going on!Hello [KK]:
This meeting came up on short notice (one workday beforehand). I would like to ask It be delayed till I can review the documentation on the investigation because at this time (1) I have been given no specific information about what exactly this meeting is about, and (2) If there are some kind of charges or accusations being brought against me, I have not even been informed what they are, nor have I been given any JPL policies and procedures that cover these kinds of investigations. I cannot adequately prepare for a meeting about these matters If I do not even know this fundamental information that I feel I have a right to know.
In this regard, I have requested documentation of the procedures being followed In this investigation. I never received that information. I also asked (twice} whether the policies on the following NASA link apply at JPL, but never received an answer: [link]
If this meeting Is in fact about an investigation instigated by my office manager, it Involves a very sensitive Issue. I know you will want to ensure it is being conducted according to written policy and that the rights of an employee are being protected. Therefore I am again asklng three things be provided me before we meet together: (1) a written copy of the findings by HR, including any accusations being made against me and the evidence for them, (2) a written statement of the official JPL policy and procedure for investigating employees, of which this Investigation Is an example, and (3) copies of any and all JPL policies covering religious expression by employees at JPL. Upon receipt of this material and sufficient time to review it, I will be willing to reschedule the meeting. I would appreciate a response by email.
David F. Coppedge (Bold added.)
He left me a voice mail stating that "all these things would be supplied to me at the meeting." I agreed to come, but tried one last time to get some information:Hello KK,· .
Thank you for your call, but in reflecting on It, I still think that at least item #2 is a reasonable thing to have before the meeting: what is the process being followed? Surely there Is a written policy on investigating employees, perhaps on JPL Rules or somewhere, that can tell me what exactly is going on. Can.you just send me a !Ink to the document?
David F. Coppedge
No answer. With an HR investigation underway, a serious meeting coming up with management, and everyone giving me the runaround, it was time to call Alliance Defending Freedom.
In this episode, you've seen how this affair looked from my "naive" perspective, how I was kept in the dark, how I became increasingly suspicious. My suspicions were confirmed -- and then some -- when I found out how HR really works, policy/process be hanged. In the next episode, you will hear about what was going on in the background at HR, based on document discovery and oral testimony: blatant disregard for JPL's own written policies, and a complete lack of due process for the accused.
Lesson to the naive: HR does not exist to protect your rights. It exists to protect the institution and its management.
Overlooking the building (center, low structure) where I worked for 14 years.
This entry describes the absurd lengths to which lawyers and haters of intelligent design will go to make mountains out of molehills. It would be funny if not so tragic.
In the last entry (see "The Triggering Incident
") I described how my office manager, GC, went on a tirade against me for "pushing religion" by sharing an intelligent design DVD with a co-worker, MW. I described how, after that intense meeting, he went on a "pre-emptive strike" to protect himself, making sure the trouble would fall on me, not him. One of the first things he did was visit my group supervisor, the program manager, and the administrative assistant, a lady with initials CV. CV apparently told GC she was "not surprised" by the complaint from MW, because she felt I had an "agenda" about Christianity. A little background will show how incredible this charge is.The Agenda
I had met CV at least six years before the trouble began, and always had a cordial relationship with her. We didn't cross paths often, because she was on another floor. One of the first things she told me was that she was a Christian. I thought, great; we have something in common. We had a few discussions way back then about her testimony and beliefs. She freely volunteered information about her faith. I thought we had developed a friendship. A couple of years later (2005), I offered her a DVD of "The Privileged Planet". She liked it so much she bought a copy. Later that month, based on her response, I offered her "Unlocking the Mystery of Life" and she liked that, too. After that, I never approached her about DVDs again. During my whole time at JPL, CV never told me, ever, that she felt uncomfortable talking about religion
. Even up to the month before I was fired, we chatted easily, mostly on work-related matters: I remember doing a favor for her for which she thanked me. I remember being in a meeting when she leaned over and whispered something funny in my ear. Most of the "religious" conversations had been many years prior. Little did I know CV harbored a deep resentment against me and my beliefs. How could I? She never let on. Yet she testified at deposition and in court that she felt I had an "agenda" about Christianity. The Human Resources (HR) investigator dutifully recorded this opinion without inquiring why she felt that way or what facts
"Agenda" is a funny word. Depending on context, it can be benign or nasty. Who would run a board meeting without an agenda? Every time you make a shopping list, or a list of things to do today, you have an agenda. Pity the person who wanders through a day or week without a plan! But phrase it this way, "He has an agenda," and the tone turns dark and suspicious. True, there are people who use a position of power or privilege to work surreptitiously on nefarious plans, like activists who gain an elected seat to foment a revolution. I'm hardly that type! I was at JPL to work on a great mission of discovery, and work I did. My team ran a tight, secure, productive computer network whose value is measured by the spectacular success of the Cassini mission. I loved my job. On rare occasions, though, I did like to share my interest in intelligent design with co-workers I trusted and who trusted me. If that was an "agenda," so it was with a team member who showed his photo calendars to everyone he knew. So it was with many other co-workers who had no hesitation talking about politics, hobbies, or other non-work subjects freely during work hours. If you work in an office environment, you know what I mean. People talk about all kinds of things. There's nothing about intelligent design that should single it out for a ban.
Bill Becker in the courthouse with me
My attorney, Bill Becker, tried to find out from CV what my "agenda" was. Repeatedly during questioning, she couldn't remember. She just had a "feeling" that I was out to convert people, even though she couldn't provide any evidence to support it. After all, she had led me to believe she was a Christian! How could I be trying to convert someone who already was converted? Bill asked her point-blank at trial what my agenda was. CV said, "I didn't believe that he was trying to convert me, but I believe that if I wasn't, he would be judgmental and try to convert me to Christianity." Needless to say, that is a complete hypothetical backed up by no evidence whatsoever. Yet her subjective feelings, which had been hidden from me all those years, were allowed to influence the court that I somehow, some way, had an "agenda" that was making her feel harassed. We learned at deposition that CV's "Christianity" had shallow roots, because she had abandoned her faith in the intervening years. We also learned that she was a kindred spirit with MW.
The "Tracking Sheet"
I've always been a conscientious note-taker. In file cabinets at home, I still have notes from my high school and college classes. From my previous employment I have stacks of spiral notebooks detailing each day's accomplishments and assignments, interspersed with personal notes about what else was happening (earthquakes, historical events and the like). It should have been no surprise, therefore, that I had 37 notebooks filled with details about my 14-year career at JPL. (Most of them were taken by JPL's lawyers and photocopied as part of their "document discovery" so that they could dig for dirt.) To me, good notes are an extension of my memory, lest I leave tasks unfinished, or forget what was decided in a meeting. They provide a historical record of my life. We lose our personal histories if we don't write things down.
When I started lending out Illustra DVDs about 2002, after Unlocking the Mystery of Life had just come out, I didn't keep records at first, but by late 2004 I realized I needed a better way to know where the DVDs were. I only had a limited number. I didn't want to just give them away, because there would be no way to know if the recipients watched them. I figured my friends would be more likely to watch them if they knew I needed them back; plus, it would allow me an opportunity to find out whether my co-workers enjoyed them or not. If for any reason the person did not like them, I needed to know that. I didn't want to bother anyone ("harass" is way too strong a word). Keeping records aided my memory so I wouldn't inadvertently approach someone a second time who had anything less than a positive response. Additionally, I only approached co-workers with whom I already had a friendly relationship.
For anyone who still might think my DVD lending activity was out of line for some reason, recognize that it was rare. My biggest DVD lending year was 2005, just after The Privileged Planet came out (a perfect film for JPL, right on a topic of great interest at JPL: habitable planets and the origin of life). I lent out 62 DVDs that year (to 42 individuals), but keep in mind many of them were to fellow Christians and others I already knew liked them. After that, it was down to 18 in 2006, 8 in 2007, 12 in 2008, and just 4 in early 2009 before the trouble started. Often months would go by with no DVD lending at all. Considering that many of these encounters took only a minute of time, and were offered right before the weekend at the end of the work day, it amounted to a tiny fraction of time at the office, with no disruption of work. Fully 99.9% of the work year I was focused on doing my job.
Initially, I fastened a post-it note ("sticky note") to the back of a copy of Unlocking the Mystery of Life
(UMOL) with the names of friends I thought would be interested in watching it. The photo (Exhibit 62, but with surnames blurred) shows this early attempt at record-keeping. Nine names are shown, with two crossed out. (Detail: five of them were never given the DVD.)
This, I realized, was a poor way of keeping track, so in late 2004 (being a computer geek anyway) I decided an Excel spreadsheet would be better. I created a "lending library" spreadsheet for the DVDs. It had just 5 columns: DVD name, co-worker name, date loaned, date returned, and comments. Comments might include what the person said about the film, how it was returned, or anything indicating to me whether it was enjoyed or not.
With this method, I didn't have to rely on my fallible memory to know whether I had already lent the DVD to Joe or Sally. If they liked it, that was nice to know. If they didn't, I didn't want to approach them again.
Innocent enough? Not to JPL's HR investigators and lawyers it wasn't. This became a prime exhibit to allege I was on a campaign to push controversial topics during work hours. They called it a "tracking sheet" instead of a "lending log" (amazing how loaded words
can twist the emotional impact of something). It showed I had an agenda, and that I was persistently going after people, part of the definition of harassment. Never mind that my most-loaned DVD, The Privileged Planet
, was about planets and life--core concepts at JPL -- that the film featured four JPL scientists. No; to them intelligent design is religion, therefore I was pushing religion. They didn't even have to watch the DVDs to somehow "know" that.
Detail of the "Sticky Note"
The "Sticky Note"
GC's account of The Triggering Incident
mentioned that MW had told him I had a "list of individuals with whom he desired to talk to ... or follow-up with." In a bizarre twist of fate, MW just happened to get that old copy of Unlocking
that still had that years-old sticky note fastened on the back.
It was late in the day on the last day of the week, Feb 26, 2009. Some had left for the long weekend; others were finishing up business. I had just loaned another DVD to a Christian friend nearby, a lady who loved Illustra's films. The one she chose was endorsed out of a couple of choices by another Christian friend standing nearby who thought highly of the one she decided to take. I had gone back to my desk, put the extra DVDs in my drawer, and saw an opened copy of Unlocking
. Who among my co-workers nearby, I thought, had never seen it yet? MW came to mind, so I brought it with me to her cubicle a few paces away in an encounter that was to have fateful consequences.
MW and I were always cordial to each other, so this seemed perfectly natural for me, being as it was time to go home anyway. I figured if she were interested she could take it home to watch it. It was never intended to disrupt work. MW was not the kind of lady I would have selected as a friend; I did not find her particularly attractive in looks or personality, but she was generally nice, and I was always nice to her. Bill Becker and I learned much later that she claimed to be an "ordained minister" in some so-called "Metaphysical Interfaith Church," having gotten her ordination by proxy through a website. This supposedly allowed her to do "laying on of hands," even though as a "minister" she presided over no congregation and had no further dealings with the headquarters of her "church." Very weird, but I didn't know any of that at the time. To me, she was just someone I had worked with for 12 years on a friendly basis. Except for the Prop 8 flyer I had offered her four months prior, which she refused, I had no reason to expect any problem; I had never brought up Prop 8 again with her; we were both in Team Lead meetings each week; we always greeted one another cheerfully. Business as usual.
I opened the conversation commenting on a quote she had on her cubicle wall. She smiled and warmed up to me, and asked what was up. I showed her the DVD, explaining briefly what it was about: DNA and the molecular machines that make cells work. She looked at it, said, "Looks interesting" in a cheerful voice, and said "Thank you!" The whole encounter lasted maybe 60 seconds or less. She gave no indication this interfered with her work. How could a few seconds of friendly, mutual conversation disrupt a librarian?
The following Monday, I found the DVD on my chair. I said no more about it to her, allowing her to bring it up if she wanted, but otherwise figuring she wasn't interested. Not until a year and a half later did I find out what really happened.
MW had taken the DVD home, but rather than watching it, she fast-forwarded through parts of it and concluded it had a "religious message" of some kind. (We never did hear her say what the religion or message was.) But then, according to her testimony, she turned the DVD case over and saw the post-it note with the names on it. She noticed one name had the words "try again" by it. She freaked out!
She imagined in her mind's eye that I was on some kind of dastardly religious campaign. With no facts, she imagined that I had approached someone, the person refused, and I wrote "try again" by her name. In other words, I was shoving these DVDs at people and insisting they watch them whether they wanted to or not! Irrationally, MW became afraid--so afraid that she didn't even want to talk to me. That's why she just left the DVD on my chair. In deposition, Bill Becker needled MW about this fear of hers. "What was your fear?" he asked. "That he was going to come do something to you? That he was going to publish your name some place? I can't get this at all." The deposition became comical as MW dodged the question, and JPL's attorneys objected vociferously. MW finally said, "I didn't want to be contacted again." Bill asked, "So the sticky note made you feel like he would try to come back and approach you again with another DVD or with this DVD, right?" Answer: "Or -- I don't know. Yes it did." Aaagh! The horror! Friend approaches with DVD in hand. Hold up the crucifix and make it go away!
Dear reader, here is what "try again" really meant. All MW would have had to do is ask me, and I would have explained. Jane had borrowed The Privileged Planet
previously and liked it so much, she had bought a copy. Because of this positive response, I stopped by with Unlocking
a couple of weeks later to see if she was interested. She replied that she was overwhelmed with work for the next several months, but asked me to come back later. Thus, "try again." Incidentally, I never did try again. I never offered Jane another DVD. That had been back in 2005, four years before I offered it to MW. Instead of getting her facts straight, MW went straight to GC, our office manager, and told him she felt "uncomfortable" and "harassed" that I was approaching her about topics regarding "personal choices" that she felt were "inappropriate." In deposition and at trial, MW reluctantly admitted she had used the H-word harassed
to GC. Most often, her preferred word for how she felt was "uncomfortable" (she just loved that word, as if her goal in life is to be comfortable all the time). So even though this was an internal feeling of hers never expressed to me, she meant "uncomfortable" but said "harassed." GC latched onto that word "harassed." Rather than checking to see whether it matched JPL's published definition of harassment with any facts or evidence, decided I was guilty. (Detail: Neither GC or MW had ever accused any other employee of harassment. More on JPL's definition of harassment in a future post.)
At trial, MW was asked what was it about the words "try again" that made her feel 'uncomfortable." "It was the implication
," she said (italics added), "that it was going to be offered again to someone who had already refused it." MW got away with portraying that sticky note as proof, not of facts, but of an implication
formed in her own imagination that I was harassing people and being persistent with those who were not interested in my "personal views" (fact check: millions of people are interested in intelligent design). She felt that my views on "religion" (ID) and "politics" (Prop 8) were "inappropriate" to discuss at work, even though there is no JPL policy against discussing these topics, or any controversial topic at work, and even though JPL routinely promotes anti-religious and anti-ID views during work hours. Nobody checked to see if what I had done came anywhere close to JPL's own clear definition of harassment, a word usually tied to sexual harassment and racial harassment, not intelligent design!
As I sit here at my home computer, out of work now for over two years because of this, I hold no bitterness against the people who did this to me. I wish I could talk to GC, MW, CV and the rest, and let them know that. I don't hold any grudges. That's why I don't use their names here, even though they are matters of public record; I'm not trying to embarrass them; just tell the story as it happened. As a Christian, I know God is in control, that He had a purpose for allowing this all to happen, even though it still is not clear to me, even though I have suffered significant loss over it. I wish investigations and court trials really did rely on facts. I wish I could have a calm, rational discussion about scientific evidence for ID with them. I know they are blinded by the myths of this world, and need the Lord to open their eyes. So I pray for them, and hope some day they will find the true God and eternal life in Christ (see Map
This story still has many chapters. Next I will describe how Human Resources conducted an "investigation" of my activities, an investigation so procedurally flawed and biased against me it sounds like something out of the Inquisition. Till then, be sure to read "Crystal Clear: What My Trial Was All About
" and "The Triggering Incident
." You can find more trial testimony related to this post on Evolution News & Views from 4/13/12
I've been home from the hospital six days now, slowly recovering from my cancer surgery. Friends and family have been very kind to me, and the pain is decreasing as I walk a little farther each day. The outlook is good that I will have my strength back in about a month or two.
A year ago today, I had no idea I had cancer. I was in L. A. Superior Court with my attorney, fighting for freedom of speech and religious expression after I had been discriminated against, and eventually fired, for sharing my views on intelligent design at JPL. Yes, I lost due to one single judge who didn't explain the reasons for his decision, but I can now talk about what happened; it remains an important and lively story. I thought I would share what started my troubles. What triggered the cascade of events that eventually led to my layoff?
With my SA team in 2006 by Cassini model (half-size)
By March 2009, I had been working at JPL for over 12 years, and had been Team Lead of the Cassini System Administration team for nine years straight. Work was going well; I was active and involved in many parts of the mission, including the singing group and outreach as a tour guide. This was on top of my busy schedule heading the team that was responsible for most of the computers on the
Saturn mission. One evening at the end of the week in February, I decided to share a DVD on intelligent design with a female coworker (initials MW) as people were preparing to go home for the long weekend. I had no idea of her feelings about the subject, other than that she looked at the DVD jacket, thanked me, and said "Looks interesting." The idea was that she could watch it at home, if interested. There was no pressure; she had every opportunity to say "No thanks." I was not selling it; just sharing it. [Note: A few months earlier, before the 2008 election I had offered MW an information sheet on California's Proposition 8, the Traditional Marriage Initiative now before the Supreme Court. When she indicated clearly she was not interested, I quickly left and never brought that subject up again. That was my only other clue our views differed on a subject that was very different from intelligent design (ID). She never complained to me about that Prop 8 offer. We remained cordial and friendly in the intervening months.]
The DVD was Unlocking the Mystery of Life
from Illustra Media, a presentation of the scientific evidence for design in biology that remains a classic today. There's no religion in the film at all. I figured sharing this DVD was within my rights on several grounds. For one, friends at work talk about a lot of things; there was no policy against discussing this topic, or even controversial topics. For another, I had known MW for some 12 years; we had a cordial relationship, and usually sat in on the same Team Lead meetings every Monday. For a third, I felt the subject was work-related because one of JPL's primary missions is the origin of life and searching for life beyond Earth. For a fourth, I'm on the board of Illustra Media; understandably, I have an interest in sharing our outstanding films, just like a photographer might want to share his photos. Finally, we do have freedom of speech in this country. If JPL can talk about life evolving by chance, then employees should have the freedom to present scientific evidence for alternative views like design. Many times during work hours I had gone to JPL lectures presenting a naturalistic origin and evolution of life.
Little did I know I was about to find out the extent of intolerance against intelligent design. That intolerance even exceeded the ignorance at JPL of what intelligent design is. The knee-jerk reaction is that it is a religious view. Strange; nobody ever pointed out the religion in the DVD.
Monday March 2 began normally. What I didn't know is that MW had gone to my office manager GC first thing in the morning, complaining that she felt "harassed" by this DVD. Harassed is a strong word, but GC believed her story, not pressing her for any facts to support her charge. He held his anger in till the afternoon--anger, because GC himself had a strong antipathy to intelligent design. I had found that out about seven years earlier when I offered him the same DVD, and heard him say he didn't like it because it disagreed with Darwinian evolution. Once I learned his view, I avoided the subject with him and didn't bring it up again, even though I personally knew he had come from a strong Christian background (I was a friend of his uncle, who had told me). Like many who attend the university, GC had abandoned his faith and embraced Darwin.
At about 3:30 p.m., after our weekly Team Lead meeting, GC called me into his office, a stern expression on his face, and closed the door. I remember that meeting like it was yesterday, because it was a complete surprise; also, because I documented what happened in an email to him that night. Here is that email (Trial Exhibit 64) written within hours of the meeting:[GC],
I want to repeat my commitment to you, that I respect your authority, and will abide by your directives in this office, as I always have, to the extent that they do not violate the laws of the United States or my conscience.
Given the sensitive nature of yesterday's interchange, I feel a mutually-agreed on record of the conversation is important for our mutual protection. Here are my recollections. The purpose is to record what was actually said, not what might have been the intent, nor to comment on the merit of any points made. You can correct any errors or omissions, or simply reply to this email to acknowledge whether this summary is basically accurate.
You told me that it had been reported to you that I was pushing my religious views at work and that some found this offensive. You told me this must stop. You ordered me not to discuss politics or religion with anyone in this office.
When I asked for specifics about who complained, you said you did not have to provide me names. When I offered to
provide examples of conversations I knew of, you did not wish to hear them.
When I asked what constituted the religious views, you said I was giving out DVDs about intelligent design.
When I asked why that constituted pushing religious views, you said emphatically, "intelligent design is religion" at least twice.
When I asked if SETI is religion, since it also uses scientific methods to infer intelligence, you said that was different, and
SETI has been decided by NASA to be a scientific activity.
When I asked if evolution is religious, you said that that evolution by scientific consensus was science.
When I asked if science is determined by consensus or by evidence, you did not wish to discuss that subject.
Throughout this interchange, you repeated the order several times to cease all discussion of religion with anyone in this office, to the point where I remarked I heard you and did not need the repetition.
You said that if what I was doing continued, it would be difficult for me to maintain employment in this organization.
When I said this order gets into issues of freedom of speech and religion, you did not wish to discuss that subject, and got up to leave.
When I said this could be construed as creating a hostile work environment, you said "Go ahead a file a complaint," and walked out.
No complaints about my job performance were stated.
Nothing was said whether my alleged religious activities were interfering with work.
The conversation lasted about 5-10 minutes on Monday, March 2, 2009, about 3:30 p.m.
Toward a mutual understanding and constructive work relationship,
David F. Coppedge
This email cannot capture the emotions in that room. GC was angry! He admitted that on the stand. He admitted that he
raised his voice, and that he exclaimed "Intelligent design is religion!". He tried to backpedal on his threat that I could lose my job, claiming that he was just trying to "help" me or "defend" me against people who might disagree with my views. The reader can evaluate that kind of post-hoc rationalization.
As for me, I had never faced an accusation like this before. I really felt I was facing a constitutional crisis. GC had put me on the defensive. I know a lot about intelligent design; GC clearly did not; that's why I was trying to explain that SETI (which JPL approves) uses the same kind of reasoning. Defending myself was hopeless, though; GC was dead set on shutting me up. This was clear from his manner when, at the end of the conversation, I said in a trembling voice, "This gets into issues of freedom of speech and religion." [Note: I do not believe intelligent design is religion, but GC did; if he discriminated against me on the basis of perceived
religion, he was breaking the law.] So how did he respond? He got up to walk out on me. As he was leaving, I said, "This could be construed as creating a hostile work environment." He literally shouted on the way out the door, "Then go ahead and file a complaint!"
I left that meeting deeply disturbed about what had happened--so disturbed, in fact, that one of the first things I did was call the Chief Ethics Officer, a man I had come to know a couple of years earlier when I needed JPL's policy on bylines for writing articles. Fortunately, he was available, and invited me over to chat. When I explained what had happened, he told me there is no policy on discussing ID or religion at work, only that employees should be careful. Even though he was
Mormon, he also misunderstood the non-religious nature of ID. I could understand how someone in his highly visible position would have to be careful sharing his Mormon faith, but I was not sharing any faith--just scientific evidence. He assured me there was no policy against discussing religion, and he thought that my office manager's response was over the top and excessive. He offered to talk to both of us together or separately if I wished. I declined for the time, hoping I could work things out with my boss. I was not going to file a complaint; my goal was to reconcile with GC.
That evening, I wrote an email to myself documenting as much as I could remember, then I composed the email to GC that
became Exhibit 64. GC never wrote me back. It took 17 months, after my attorney and I had filed our lawsuit, before discovery documents showed what he had done. He never did reply to me. Instead, he wrote a response to my line
managers, his line managers and Human Resources (HR). We also found out that he launched a "pre-emptive strike" to protect himself from accusations of having created a hostile work environment, to make sure I was the one to get in trouble
over that meeting. More on that later. Here was GC's version of the story, Exhibit 227, pp. 48-49 (employee names converted to initials for their privacy, ellipses in original; bold added):Here's my description of yesterday's interactions:
Approx 8 AM, employee MW came to my office to express a concern about being "harassed" by David -- his belief in Intelligent Design and Support for Prop. 8. I advised employee to tell Dave that they're not interested in hearing about his belief and leave it at that. However, if he continued, I would need to know ... so that I can talk to him. The employee also said that Dave had a "list" of individuals with whom he desired to "talk" to ... or follow-up with ....
Approx 3:30 PM, I talked to Dave about his personal beliefs and advised him that he should be careful. He should not attempt to advocate his beliefs or question the beliefs of others. He responded that he felt that he was being singled out ... and requested that I tell him the names of his "accusers." I refused ... but told him that he needs to be careful and that this type of discussion is appropriate in certain setting (i.e., a JPL Bible Study group or where an individuals [sic] requests an opinion).
I informed him that Intelligent Design (ID) is a personal belief that should be kept to himself unless invited by other to discuss. Dave also wanted to know why he was being singled out...and that another employee (VB) happens to have a Muslim quote on their e-mail. .. and why I did not discuss with them ... about not pursuing their personal beliefs. I said that if
you're offend [sic] ... and complaining to me about the phrase, then I would go talk to the individual. I informed him that he was not being singled out... as I have a complaint alleging that he is harrassing people with his ideology.
He then want to know ... "what Is science?" And ... what is SETI? He then felt that we were protecting "evolution" as a "protected religion" and cited that our press releases promoted evolution. I said that evolution is currently viewed as the scientific basis of how things evolve ... he then insisted that ID is consistent with that thought. I reminded him not to discuss this issue any further. He then challenged me to a debate on Intelligent Design off Lab. I told him no. I told him ...
this topic is not for further discussion. He objected. I then told him ... that if pursues this line of thought (wanting to discuss ID with individuals ... who have already said that they're not interesting [sic] in hearing), that his employment options here would be severely limited (my thinking ... he's bordering insubordination). He then told me that he felt that I was threatening him ... and creating a "hostile work environment". I informed him that if he felt that, please go ahead and file a complaint with his supervisor.
I then went to disclose this interaction with his current supervisor [CB] and the Cassini Program's AA [Administrative
Assistant, CV]. I have also left a phone message on the Employee Relations (xn-nnnn) phone line ... requesting assistance and to document this exchange. I have also called (and left a message describing the above) with WH, Section 17x AA.
I have since talked directly with [WH] who says that she is informing [KK] (Section 173 Manager) and her HR representative. I've also called my Line Management organization (MM) and left a message about the situation.
I have not responded to Dave's previous e-mail and will not do so until I have received advise [sic] from HR or line
Several things are noteworthy in GC's email. First is the complete absence of any reference to bad work habits, personal flaws or poor job performance
(see my blog entry from 2/22, "Crystal Clear: What My Trial Was All About"
that refers to this March 2 triggering incident). His entire email was about the impropriety of sharing my "personal views" on ID or Prop 8. There is only one mention of Prop 8 in his email to management, but six
about intelligent design (ID), meaning ID was clearly what was on his mind as the ground of my infraction (I have no record of GC mentioning Prop 8 in the March 2 meeting).
Also noteworthy is the difference in tone between his email and mine. I was focused on reconciliation--agreeing on the facts "toward a constructive work relationship" -- and my email was written privately and respectfully to him alone. Instead, GC sent his version to four important managers and an HR investigator, distorting particulars of the conversation. Notice, for instance, how he said I felt he was "creating a hostile work environment" when my wording was, "this could be construed as
creating a hostile work environment". I reported him saying, "Then go ahead and file a complaint" but he claims he said, "I
informed him that if he felt that, please go ahead and file a complaint with his supervisor." There was no "please" in his shout. He portrayed himself not as angry, as he would testify later, but as a cool, rational manager dealing with an employee challenging him so much it was "bordering on insubordination" (the first time he had ever made such a claim about my attitude). In fact, he was lambasting me in this surprise encounter, in a raised angry voice, putting me on the defensive. I was not challenging him to a "debate" off lab. I was just offering a chance for a more rational discussion at another time when he wasn't so angry.
There are also some out-and-out lies in his email. Nobody ever told me those DVDs were unwelcome. Nobody ever said
they were not interested. In fact, the slightest indication someone was not interested (body language, tone of voice, or leaving the DVD on my desk) was enough for me to drop the subject with that person. And I never questioned the beliefs of others. GC was
singling me out; he had never given any other individual such an order in his career spanning decades. By the way, I was not insubordinate; even after his outrageously discriminatory order, I obeyed it, never sharing another DVD after March 2.
Notice also that GC was well aware I felt at the time he was threatening me. That undermines his later post-hoc rationalizations that he was just trying to "help" me get along with people.
Most important is the clear evidence of discrimination in his email. While the Darwinians have free rein at JPL to push atheism, anti-ID views and Darwinism, I was informed that "this topic" [ID] "is not for further discussion." I was ordered "not to discuss this topic any further" with anyone
, not just MW. This amounted to prior restraint on my speech. GC characterized my views as "ideology" but JPL's Darwinian views as "science." He ordered me to cease discussion of ID so many times I told him "I heard him, and didn't need the repetition." He threatened me with loss of a job. And he did
create a hostile work environment -- but I was the one who got in trouble for his discriminatory tirade!
MW pushed GC's domino, and it started a whole chain of events that led to my getting fired. For what? Sharing a DVD about scientific evidence for intelligent design. That's what this case was all about.
You can mock ID; you can laugh at it; you can post cartoons ridiculing it and traditional marriage on your office door, but share a non-threatening, well-done
presentation on scientific evidence for design, and this is what can happen to you.
I have a great deal more to share about the trial from time to time, but this "triggering incident" is important to understand. Never underestimate the intolerance of Darwinians for intelligent design. It could cost you your job.
My sister Judy and me at the front entrance
(This is the first day after my surgery I'm feeling well enough to write, so I thought I'd share a few thoughts what God has been teaching me this week.)
St. Augustine was well known for his large work, The City of God, that compared God's domain with man's. I don't suppose either Augustine or the designers of City of Hope Clinical Research Hospital had that in mind, but I think Augustine would certainly approve of calling the "City of God" a City of Hope as well. For it is in Christ Jesus that we have hope of eternal life for this life and the next. I have also found that God's hope is for this life as well. It's a hope that stems from the goodness of God – his affection for His creatures that moves him to act on their behalf, because it is His good pleasure to see them rejoice in Him. He is good. He has been good to me this week.
In rhe emotional distress I faced after the diagnosis on January 11, I first saw that goodness in God's leading to two of the finest clinical oncologists I could ever "hope" to have cutting me open. It just so happened (I use that phrase advisedly) that my first oncologist said on my first visit, "You are fortunate that we have working in this area one of the finest surgical oncologists at City of Hope hospital, with years of experience specifically operating on tumors. He has just opened up an office nearby. I want to go over your scans with him in the morning, then I want you to make an appointment with him immediately." It turns out that he is not only one of the finest in the area, but probably in California and the nation as well. In his part if the surgery, Dr. Vijay Trisal succeeded in getting the entire primary tumor out, including the lymph nodes and associated tissue. Then he carefully removed a foot of small intestine and sutured it successfully together allowing me to eat my first clear liquid food today. In another answer to prayer and evidence of His goodness, He moved Dr. Trisal to go for primary tumor removal first--a good thing, because by Feb. 26 it was almost completely blocking my small intestine. The Lord him make that critical decision in the nick of time.
Assisting Dr. Trisal on Tuesday was Dr. Gagandeep Singh, another outstanding surgeon--chief of surgery here at COH and one who knows the cutting edge science as well as the cutting edge of the scalpel. Dr. Singh spent six of the eight hour operation removing as many liver tumors and tumor clusters as he could, including 86 from the surface. Wisely he decided not to attempt a major resection, though, lest I face loss of function. "You can survive without a kidney," he said, "but not without a liver." In his meeting with me the prior day, he encouraged me with promising new treatments that may be ready when I need them – targeted therapies that can specifically target the tumor cells without harming healthy tissue. I was very glad to know that Dr. Singh, Dr. Trisal and City of Hope are on the leading edge of cancer treatment.
Helford Hospital at City of Hope, where I write from
I was reminded again how God's goodness is reflected in the goodness of His people. While I have had to learn some patience with hospital staff some days (more about this in a satire perhaps tomorrow), I was glad to have regular visitors flow into my groggy field of vision, encourage me, and pray for me. My sister would do anything she could, anything I asked; her family made arrangements to help free up her time so she could be with me the whole week.
I will not deny that an operation of this magnitude is an ordeal. Imagine every slight cough or hiccup leading to stabs of pain in the abdomen. Imagine the struggle to breathe normally. I tell you, when you lose your health, even temporarily, you understand what a precious gift it is. So many people do the simplest, ordinary things every day in ways that would have caused me to shrink in horror at the thought of going through that pain again. Health is itself a gift of God's goodness. It is tragic to think of the many who, because of refusal to accept God's salvation from their sin, choose sickness over eternal life, pain over God's pleasure, tears over God's good gifts.
At this point I'm getting a little better each day. The first 3 days after surgery were the hardest, but I'm making progress. It was a great relief todaywhen Dr. Singh gave permission to remove the breathing tube. Now another day or two
and I could be tube-free. We celebrate the goodness of God by saying grace before meals. I tell you, no clear broth and apple juice was better blessed! Soon I hope I will be home, where challenges will continue in my City of Hope under God.
Holding church by a river in Yellowstone on a Creation Safari in 1994
Well, it's the night before I go to the hospital. I'm having abdominal pains where the tumor is pressing against my intestine, and it's late. I wondered what I could share quickly to encourage my friends and describe my meditations at this point. I thought I would relate some clear evidences of God's leading me through this latest trial.
When you get a cancer diagnosis, or face an operating room, your emotions can go wild. Most of the time I can act pretty stoic about my situation in public, but I haven't always been as brave and confident as I should be, knowing Biblical theology about salvation, sanctification, and grace. One of the curve balls Satan tries to throw at you is the guilt trip. "God is punishing you for your sins," he whispers. Even though I know that my sins are under the blood of Christ, and there is no one, not even among the finest Christ followers, who never sins, that guilt trip can try to snag you, especially when the devil quotes Scripture to make his point. He reminds me that God judges even Christ followers with sickness and death, as I Corinthians 11:29-31 teaches. Then there's the "sin unto death" John warned about in I John 5:16-17. Like JPL's lawyers, Satan is really good at hunting and pecking for evidence to use against me.
Intellectually, I can tell him, "Begone, Satan! My sins are under the blood of Christ." I can also point to Christ followers far more saintly than me who also got cancer. Scientifically I know that cancer is common and afflicts people of all ages and backgrounds; God is not picking them out to judge them with cancer, is he? But when I was having a particularly hard time with this mental battle some weeks ago, shortly after the diagnosis before many people knew, I asked the Lord for some sign that this cancer was not punishment for my sins. It was a Saturday night and I went to bed with that hope.Next morning I walked into the church lobby, a few minutes late after the service had begun. In the lobby are screens where the words for the congregational singing are projected. The choir director was leading the audience in the familiar hymn, "How Firm a Foundation." At the exact moment I entered, I heard the music and saw these words on the screen:
When through fiery trials thy pathway shall lie,
My grace all sufficient shall be thy supply.
The flames will not hurt Thee, I only design
Thy dross to consume, and thy gold to refine.
I stood there, amazed at the timing! I followed as they sang the third verse:
When through the deep waters I cause thee to go,
The rivers of sorrow shall not overflow.
I'll strengthen thee, help thee, and cause thee to stand,
Upheld by my gracious omnipotent hand.
Tears started flowing as I walked quietly up to the balcony, as the words I knew by heart continued to echo through the halls:
The soul that on Jesus has leaned for repose,
I will not, I will not desert to its foes;
That soul, though all hell should endeavor to shake,
I’ll never, no never, no never forsake!
I took a seat against the far right wall, trying to hide my tears—tears of relief and comfort that this hymn, such a perfect answer to prayer, was the first thing to greet me. But that wasn't the only sign of God's comfort that morning. The next congregational hymn was "It Is Well With My Soul." I could hardly sing, so I just listened and sang it in my heart.
Though Satan should buffet, though trials should come,
Let this blest assurance control,
That Christ has regarded my helpless estate,
And hath shed His own blood for my soul.
My sin, oh, the bliss of this glorious thought!
My sin, not in part but the whole,
Is nailed to the cross, and I bear it no more,
Praise the Lord, praise the Lord, O my soul!
Good old usher Bob could not help noticing my sniffling. He came over and asked with a smile, "Everything all right?" I forced a smile and we smacked fists.
The Lord must have wanted to make sure I was not going to fall for Satan's guilt trip. It "just so happened" that the pastor's series on I Peter landed on chapter 1, verses 6 to 9:
In this you rejoice, though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials, so that the tested genuineness of your faith—more precious than gold that perishes though it is tested by fire—may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ. Though you have not seen him, you love him. Though you do not now see him, you believe in him and rejoice with joy that is inexpressible and filled with glory, obtaining the outcome of your faith, the salvation of your souls.
Comforted by this rapid-fire series of answers to my prayer, I remember the pastor quoting Psalm 23 with a comment; "The fact that you walk through the valley of the shadow of death does not necessarily mean you will leave it; just that He will be with you."
The Lord came through that morning for me with the assurance I needed, and He has continued to bless me with encouragement from friends far and wide. Just last night, for instance, I lady I had not seen for some time walked up to me during a break in a meeting and went on and on about how much I had blessed her life and influenced many others. I was reluctant to tell her about the cancer, but when she sensed "something else was going on," I told her. She stopped and prayed fervently for me right then and there, asking for healing. And tonight, my sister's family held a rich, sincere round of prayer for me.
I could tell more about God's comfort during this my new trial, but it's time to sleep and get ready for the hospital tomorrow. I hope you will take heart at how God met me when I really needed hope. When you face your next trial, and intellectual knowledge alone is not enough, will you lay it before the Lord and ask Him for guidance? God is eager and willing to give wisdom to those who lack it, and ask without doubting (James 1:2-5). You may not get an answer from an angel at the foot of your bed, but God has other "angels" (other believers) He can bring alongside you to pray for and encourage you. Trust Him and see His perfect timing!
O, what peace we often forfeit,
O, what needless pain we bear;
All because we do not carry
Everything to God in prayer.
--Joseph Scriven, a man who knew a lot about trials
(see his story in the video Amazing Grace: Hymns That Changed the World).
Footnote: Tonight I ended a several-year chronological Bible study using the English Standard Version and Greek. "It just so happened" that tonight's final text was Revelation 22: No more sorrow, no more tears, no more pain; the curse is gone, and the river of life flows by the tree of life. Yes, come Lord Jesus!