No Christians Need Apply?

Alissa Harris | World News Service | Wednesday, February 9, 2011

No Christians Need Apply?

(WNS)--A University of Kentucky faculty member warned her colleagues in an email she sent about a potential employee: “Clearly this man is complex and likely fascinating to talk with—but potentially evangelical.” Astronomer Martin Gaskell, the man in question, sued the University of Kentucky for choosing not to hire him because of his Christian beliefs. In a rare outcome, the university settled the case for $125,000.

In 2007, Gaskell applied for the position of Observatory Director at the university. The search committee’s email exchanges reveal that Gaskell was the leading candidate for the job until faculty discovered that Gaskell was an evangelical Christian who had spoken publicly about the theory of evolution. Even though Gaskell does not describe himself as a “creationist,” the search committee debated his religious beliefs and quizzed him about how his beliefs affected his work.

The Civil Rights Act bans employer discrimination on the basis of religion, but Gaskell’s attorney, Frank Manion, said it is rare to find such plentiful evidence of discrimination. When Manion told Gaskell to expect a FedEx package containing UK’s relevant documents, Gaskell said he was expecting a few pieces of paper: “And to my amazement there were maybe 200, 300 pages of paper in that envelope, and just about the only thing they were talking about is my religious beliefs.” In one email, Gaskell’s lone defender protested that Gaskell’s qualifications far outweighed his competitors’: “The real reason we will not offer him this job is because of his religious beliefs.”

Gaskell hopes that his case will increase academic freedom and make people realize, “It is intellectually OK to be a Christian. . . . There are many scientists who are Christians and I am not unusual. In fact I regard myself as a very ordinary scientist and a very ordinary Christian.”

c. 2011 World News Service. Used with permission.

Publication date: February 9, 2011