Congress slams Smithsonian’s anti-religious attacks

A new report from the U.S. House of Representatives has condemned officials at the Smithsonian Institution for imposing a religious test on scientists who work there. And it suggests their attacks on a scientist who just edited an article on intelligent design are just the tip of the iceberg of an industry-wide fear of anything that suggests man might not have come from a puddle of sludge.

The report*, which cited a ‘strong religious and political component’ in the dispute (info), was prompted by a complaint from Dr. Richard Sternberg (homepage), who holds biology doctorates from Binghamton and Florida International universities and has served as a research associate at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History.

It was prepared for U.S. Representative Mark Souder, R-Ind., chairman of the subcommittee of criminal justice, drug policy and human resources, and easily confirmed Sternberg’s harassment and discrimination allegations that his managers criticized him, created a hostile work environment for him, and now have demoted him because of the article, which he didn’t even write.

Continued at “Congress slams Smithsonian’s anti-religious attacks


Opening paragraphs of the Executive Summary of the Report:

In January 2005, an opinion piece published in the Wall Street Journal first raised public awareness about disturbing allegations that officials at the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of Natural History (NMNH) had retaliated against museum Research Associate (RA) Richard Sternberg because he allowed publication of an article favoring the theory of intelligent design in a biology journal.1 A well-published evolutionary biologist with two doctorates in biology, Dr. Sternberg claimed that after publication of the article, his colleagues and supervisors at the NMNH subjected him to harassment and discrimination in an effort to force him out as a Research Associate.

In November of 2004, Dr. Sternberg filed a complaint with the U.S. Office of Special Counsel (OSC), the agency charged with “protecting federal employees and applicants from prohibited personnel practices, especially reprisal for whistleblowing.” The OSC eventually found evidence to corroborate Dr. Sternberg’s complaint, concluding that “[i]t is… clear that a hostile work environment was created with the ultimate goal of forcing” Dr. Sternberg out of the Smithsonian. Despite this finding, the OSC was unable to pursue its investigation due to a question of jurisdiction. In August of 2005, subcommittee staff initiated their own investigation into the possible mistreatment of Dr. Sternberg by the Smithsonian. During their investigation, staff met with Dr. Sternberg and senior Smithsonian officials, and reviewed internal emails provided by the Smithsonian in response to requests from the subcommittee.

The staff investigation has uncovered compelling evidence that Dr. Sternberg’s civil and constitutional rights were violated by Smithsonian officials. Moreover, the agency’s top officials – Secretary Lawrence Small and Deputy Secretary Sheila Burke – have shown themselves completely unwilling to rectify the wrongs that were done or even to genuinely investigate the wrongdoing. Most recently, Burke and Small have allowed NMNH officials to demote Dr. Sternberg to the position of Research Collaborator, despite past assurances from Burke that Dr. Sternberg was a “Research Associate in good standing” and would be given “full and fair consideration” for his request to renew his Research Associateship. 2 The failure of Small and Burke to take any action against such discrimination raises serious questions about the Smithsonian’s willingness to protect the free speech and civil rights of scientists who may hold dissenting views on topics such as biological evolution.

Major findings of this staff investigation include

* Officials at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History created a hostile work environment intended to force Dr. Sternberg to resign his position as a Research Associate in violation of his free speech and civil rights. There is substantial, credible evidence of efforts to abuse and harass Dr. Sternberg, including punitively targeting him for investigation in order to supply a pretext for dismissing him, and applying to him regulations and restrictions not imposed on other researchers. Given the factual record, the Smithsonian’s pro-forma denials of discrimination are unbelievable. Indeed, NMNH officials explicitly acknowledged in emails their intent to pressure Sternberg to resign because of his role in the publication of the Meyer paper and his views on evolution. On September 13, 2004, Dr. Jonathan Coddington, chair of the zoology department, wrote to crustacean curator Dr. Rafael Lemaitre that he could not find a legal basis for terminating Sternberg, but added: “I suppose we could call him on the phone and verbally ask him to do the right thing and resign?” 3 A few hours later, Dr. Lemaitre responded that “a face to face meeting or at least a ‘you are welcome to leave or resign’ call with this individual, is in order.” 4 Finally, in an email on October 6, 2004, Dr. Coddington (in his capacity as Dr. Sternberg’s “supervisor”) stated that he was planning to meet with Dr. Sternberg to convey the message “that if he had any class he would either entirely desist or resign his appointment.” 5 Clearly, the NMNH management was trying to make Dr. Sternberg’s life at the Museum as difficult as possible and encourage him to leave, since they knew they had no legal grounds to dismiss him. (Continued)

John Latter / Jorolat
Evolution Research:

The material in this press release comes from the originating research organization. Content may be edited for style and length. Want more? Sign up for our daily email.

Comments are closed.