Times: Did the U of Kentucky Discriminate Against Astronomer C. Martin Gaskell based on his Evangelical Faith?

The Times reports that jury will decide if a university discriminated against astronomer C. Martin Gaskell based on his evangelical faith in denying him a job at the MacAdam Student Observatory in Kentucky.

Talmudic analysis: The facts do appear to merit consideration by a jury. The university did deny him employment and his religious beliefs were considered in that denial.

On the other hand it is open to question whether an evangelical Christian could argue that his faith in the Bible was not a detriment to his ability to carry out unbiased scientific research in astronomy.

If so, the university had every right and obligation to raise the issue. And last, it appears that the professor got another, even better, job. So if he does win his lawsuit, there will be no damages awarded. Thus this raises the question of whether all this is a bullying law suit filed at the urging of the religious right to assert a political agenda and to garner publicity.

Here is the crux of the story from the Times, "Astronomer Sues University, Claiming Faith Cost Him a Job" by MARK OPPENHEIMER:
In 2007, C. Martin Gaskell, an astronomer at the University of Nebraska, was a leading candidate for a job running an observatory at the University of Kentucky. But then somebody did what one does nowadays: an Internet search.

That search turned up evidence of Dr. Gaskell’s evangelical Christian faith.

The University of Kentucky hired someone else. And Dr. Gaskell sued the institution.

Whether his faith cost him the job and whether certain religious beliefs may legally render people unfit for certain jobs are among the questions raised by the case, Gaskell v. University of Kentucky.

In late November, a federal judge in Kentucky ruled that the case could go forward, and a trial is scheduled for February. The case represents a rare example, experts say, of a lawsuit by a scientist who alleges academic persecution for his religious faith.

Both sides agree that Dr. Gaskell, 57, was invited to the university, in Lexington, for a job interview. In his lawsuit, he says that at the end of the interview, Michael Cavagnero, the chairman of the physics and astronomy department, asked about his religious beliefs.

“Cavagnero stated that he had personally researched Gaskell’s religious beliefs,” the lawsuit says. According to Dr. Gaskell, the chairman said Dr. Gaskell’s religious beliefs and his “expression of them would be a matter of concern” to the dean.

Federal law prohibits discrimination on the basis of religion, so interviewers typically do not ask about an applicant’s faith. Depositions and e-mails submitted as evidence suggest why Dr. Cavagnero may have raised the issue with Dr. Gaskell.

For the plaintiff, the smoking gun is an e-mail dated Sept. 21, 2007, from a department staff member, Sally A. Shafer, to Dr. Cavagnero and another colleague. Ms. Shafer wrote that she did an Internet search on Dr. Gaskell and found links to his notes for a lecture that explores, among other topics, how the Bible could relate to contemporary astronomy.

“Clearly this man is complex and likely fascinating to talk with,” Ms. Shafer wrote, “but potentially evangelical. If we hire him, we should expect similar content to be posted on or directly linked from the department Web site.”

In his deposition, Dr. Cavagnero recalled reading Ms. Shafer’s e-mail and said he discussed Dr. Gaskell’s faith with the department chairman at the University of Nebraska, where Dr. Gaskell worked at the time. Dr. Cavagnero also said a colleague, Moshe Elitzur, worried that Dr. Gaskell “had outspoken public views about creationism and evolution.”

Dr. Elitzur, in his deposition, said he feared that bad publicity could arise from bringing Dr. Gaskell to the university, which is less than 100 miles from the Creation Museum, in Petersburg, Ky.

“There’s no way you can avoid the headline in The Herald-Leader saying ‘U.K. hires a creationist for public outreach,’ ” Dr. Elitzur remembered saying.

Referring to Ms. Shafer’s concern that Dr. Gaskell was “potentially evangelical,” Francis J. Manion, Dr. Gaskell’s lawyer, said: “I couldn’t have made up a better quote. ‘We like this guy, but he is potentially Jewish’? ‘Potentially Muslim’?” ...more...

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