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ACLJ Pleased with Settlement of Christian Astronomer's Religious Discrimination Case Against University of Kentucky

WASHINGTON, Jan. 18, 2011 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- The American Center for Law and Justice (ACLJ) announced today the settlement of the religious discrimination case of C. Martin Gaskell v. University of Kentucky.  The ACLJ represented 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.  Under the terms of the settlement, the University has agreed to pay Gaskell the sum of $125,000.

"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," said Francis J. Manion, ACLJ Senior Trial Counsel.  "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. Such a standard would eliminate from consideration some of the most celebrated names in the history of science, from Copernicus, Galileo, Newton, Pascal, Pasteur, among many others, to contemporary scientists like Francis Collins, the head of the Human Genome Project and President Obama's choice to run the National Institutes for Health (NIH)."

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.

The case had been scheduled for a jury trial in federal court in Lexington on February 8, 2011.

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."

"The standard of suspicion -- rightly described as a 'McCarthyism of the Left' by one UK professor -- applied by some to Gaskell because of his religious writings and statements should have no place in universities of all places," Manion added. "The ease with which some of the people involved in this process were willing to tar Gaskell with the labels of 'scientific creationist,' 'evolution-basher,' and other pejoratives based on half-remembered hearsay and extremely selective reading of his non-professional writings was truly disturbing to witness.  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."

Led by Chief Counsel Jay Sekulow, the American Center for Law and Justice (ACLJ) focuses on constitutional law and is based in Washington, D.C.  The ACLJ is online at www.aclj.org.

MEDIA  CONTACTS:  

For Print: Gene Kapp  (757) 575-9520

For Broadcast:  Christy Lynn Wilson or Todd Shearer (770) 813-0000

SOURCE American Center for Law and Justice



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