Defending the Judeo-Christian Heritage, limited government, and the American Constitution
Saturday February 13th 2016

Victory for Christian Astronomer in Religious Discrimination Case

Liberty Alerts, American Center for Law and Justice

I want to report to you a settlement in a case we’ve been involved with in Kentucky – representing Professor Martin Gaskell, an internationally-respected astronomer, who was turned down for the post of Observatory Director at the University of Kentucky in 2007 after concerns were voiced about some of his writings contained in a personal website discussing the compatibility of modern astronomy and the Christian religion.

We reported on this case extensively and that post is here.

There’s good news to report.  We have reached an agreement with the University of Kentucky, bringing an end to this religious discriminaton suit.  For their part, the university agrees to pay our client the sum of $125,000 to settle the case.

It’s an important victory and as our Senior Trial Counsel Frank Manion put it:  “In bringing this case and successfully resolving it we believe we have shed some much-needed light on a problem that is by no means limited to the University of Kentucky.”

What became clear is that the reaction of some of those involved in this hiring process to a scientist who dared to be open about his Christian faith is, unfortunately, fairly typical of academia generally.  It is simply untenable to think that an avowed Christian, evangelical or otherwise, or any other scientist of religious faith, is somehow incapable or less capable of performing his or her job in science education, research, or outreach.

Gaskell’s lawsuit, originally filed in 2009, alleged that the University violated Title VII, the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which prohibits employers from using an applicant’s race, color, religion, sex or national origin in making hiring decisions.

In ruling on the parties’ motions for summary judgment in October, 2010, U.S. District Judge Karl Forester wrote: “to a large extent, ‘what’ happened is largely undisputed. Rather, it is UK’s motivation – the ‘why’ – for rejecting Gaskell . . . that remains hotly contested.” Judge Forester noted that Gaskell was a leading candidate for the Observatory Director position – in fact, one of two finalists – and that the Chair of the Search Committee described Gaskell as “superbly qualified” “breathtakingly above the other applicants,” and someone “who has already done everything we would want the Observatory Director to do.” The court further noted, however, numerous statements in emails exchanged among those involved in the search process as well as statements in depositions  “which, if true, are direct evidence of religious discrimination.”

In denying UK’s motion for summary judgment, Judge Forester specifically noted the following:

• The head of the search committee wrote in an email to the Chair of the Physics & Astronomy Department that “no objective observer could possibly believe that we excluded Martin [Gaskell] on any basis other than religious . . .”
• The Department Chair admitted “that the debate generated by Gaskell’s website and his religious beliefs was an ‘element’ in the decision not to hire Gaskell.”
• One member of the search committee admitted that Gaskell’s “views of religious things” were “a factor” in his decision not to support Gaskell’s candidacy.
• Another member of the committee, having discovered Gaskell’s website, warned fellow committee members that Gaskell was “potentially evangelical.”
• The search committee head, anticipating a decision against Gaskell by his fellow committee members, wrote that “Other reasons will be given for the choice . . . but the real reason we will not offer him the job is because of his religious beliefs in matters that are unrelated to astronomy or to any of the other duties specified for this position.”

We’re pleased with the outcome of this case.  We can only hope that this case will send a message throughout academia that religious intolerance is just as unlawful as other forms of prejudice and bias.

Used with the permission of the American Center for Law and Justice.