Commentary: "Potential Evangelicals" need not apply at UK

Jan 21, 2011

Murray, KY – An astronomy professor who sued the University of Kentucky after claiming he lost out on a top job because of his Christian beliefs reached a settlement Tuesday with the school. In 2007, Martin Gaskell, now a research fellow at the University of Texas-Austin, was vying for the position of director of the MacAdam Student Observatory at the University of Kentucky. The search committee found that his personal views conflicted with theirs. Commentator Richard Nelson talks about fairness and ideology in the field of Science and says "potential evangelicals" need not apply at UK.

Kentuckians love to cheer on their Big Blue this time of year, so when Federal District Judge Karl Forester recently called foul (not on Coach Cal, thank God) on the UK astronomy department for religious discrimination, it gave spectators a glimpse into the intellectual climate of academia. And it ain't like being at Rupp.

Martin Gaskell, a well-published astronomer with impeccable credentials, was likely to get the job as the new director of UK's student astronomical observatory until one search committee member suspected that he was "potentially evangelical."


Gaskell, who advised the UK astronomy department in the development of the student observatory that he sought to direct, was blackballed for a lecture he delivered called "Modern Astronomy, the Bible and Creation." In it, he criticizes materialistic evolution and shares some of the beliefs of Newton, Galileo, Kepler and Copernicus. All by the way were Christians, and each would be summarily rejected by UK's astronomy department for the same reason Gaskell was if the same search committee were in place.

On Nov. 23, Judge Forester found a smoking-gun-of-an-email that implicates several members of the search committee of violating Gaskell's civil rights. One search committee member worried that Gaskell was "something close to a creationist." Another said that hiring him would be a "huge public relations mistake." A biology professor wrote to a colleague "we might as well have the Creation Museum set up an outreach office in biology." Memo to future search committees: Carefully consider the idea of Creation Museum Outreach next time.

The star witness in the case, otherwise known as the chair of the search committee, said, "If Martin were not so superbly qualified, so breathtakingly above the other applicants in background and experience, then our decision would be much simpler. We could easily choose another applicant, and we could content ourselves with the idea that Martin's religious beliefs played little role in our decision. However, this is not the case. As it is, no objective observer could possibly believe that we excluded Martin on any basis other than religious."

When intelligent people downgrade a candidate from "superbly qualified" to an embarrassment because they might be "potentially evangelical," they are, by definition, practicing bigotry, regardless of how well cloaked in sophisticated language it may be. In his 2008 documentary "Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed," Ben Stein revealed just how close-minded the university can be when it comes to protecting the institutionalized theory of evolution.

When the self-appointed arbiters of truth discard an applicant like yesterday's lunch all because of a competing theory of origins differences that the search committee members admitted had nothing to do with the job, then something is lost in our halls of higher learning. Places that once welcomed free and open inquiry now shut it down, and positions that were once opened to the best qualified candidates are only open to ideological clones.

What would UK have done if Francis Collins, the director of the National Institutes of Health applied for a job there? Collins directed the International Human Genome Sequencing Consortium and wrote a book called The Language of God: A Scientist Presents Evidence for Belief (2006). Collins has one of the brightest scientific minds of our day. He's also an evangelical.

Interestingly, both Collins and Gaskell are not creationists, but apparently any talk of the possibility of God so threatens the exclusive platform of their peers that excommunication from the Church of Darwinian Fundamentalism is in order.

It seems the UK debacle is really a chess match of ideology and Gaskell merely a pawn. It was his non-conforming ideas that threatened the status quo - ideas that UK gatekeepers will be keen to censure in the future. But when a university violates someone's civil rights, as UK is charged with, they are in danger of becoming an institution plagued by what one of its own faculty members called a "McCarthyism of the Left."

According to the Associated Press, The University of Kentucky agreed to pay Martin Gaskell $125,000 in exchange for dropping a federal religious discrimination suit he filed in Lexington in 2009.

Richard Nelson is a policy analyst for The Family Foundation, a nonprofit public policy organization. He currently resides in Trigg County with his family.

The views expressed in this commentary are the opinion of the commentator and don't necessarily reflect the views of WKMS.