Conservative Think Tank Discovers Importance of 7th Amendment Right to Civil Jury Trial


The Discovery Institute is a conservative think tank headquartered in Seattle, Washington, dedicated to “the reinvigoration of traditional Western principles and institutions and the worldview from which they issued.” The Institute has a special focus, to emphasize “the role that science and technology play in our culture and how they can advance free markets, illuminate public policy and support the theistic foundations of the West.”

The Institute is now highlighting a religious discrimination lawsuit brought by a former employee of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL). David Coppedge was a 14-year veteran and the senior member of the JPL team that oversees computers for NASA’s mission to send a satellite to Saturn, one of the most complicated in its history. He is also a fervent Christian and believer in the “intelligent design” theory of history, which contrasts with Darwin’s theory of evolution, and he manages a website on creationism.

Over the course of a decade, Coppedge periodically discussed “intelligent design” with co-workers and offered them DVDs on the subject. Then, in March 2009, Coppedge’s manager ordered him to stop “pushing religion,” which resulted in an argument between the two, with Coppedge finally agreeing to halt such discussions. A month later, JPL suddenly demoted Coppedge and warned him that he had violated the ethics policy. Coppedge filed a discrimination suit against JPL in Los Angeles. JPL responded to the lawsuit by firing Coppedge. Mr. Coppedge is being defended by attorney William J. Becker Jr., who is supported by the Alliance Defense Fund, the outstanding group defending religious liberty across America.

On November 18, a Los Angeles County Superior Court judge ruled Friday that Mr. Coppedge is entitled to exercise his 7th Amendment right to a civil jury trial against the JPL. In an interview on the nationally syndicated ‘What’s Up’ radio program, Discovery’s legal affairs policy analyst, Joshua Youngkin, explained to host Terry Lowry the “very significant point” of the judge’s ruling:

The jury and not the judge will determine whether or not David Coppedge had his rights infringed. And that’s a very important right that we all cherish.”

As Terry Lowry pointed out, the right to a trial by jury was listed in the Declaration of Independence above the right to bear arms. Whether you believe in “intelligent design” or the Darwin theory of evolution is irrelevant. Every American is entitled to assert, before a local jury of peers, whether adverse employment actions were the result of religious discrimination. Americans who want to “tort-reform” away cases involving medical malpractice with damage caps and procedural hurdles rarely stop to think whether the tort reformers would then turn against other rights protected in the Bill of Rights.

You can listen to the pertinent portion of Terry Lowry’s interview of Joshua Youngkin on the “What’s Up” program by downloading this short podcast.