Gaskell vs. UK #3: Settlement!
There is great and encouraging news to report regarding Dr. Martin Gaskell’s lawsuit against the University of Kentucky for religious discrimination. A settlement has been reached and announced.
I am thrilled for Gaskell because the he and his family can at last move forward, putting this chapter behind them. They are about to move to Chile where he has accepted the position of profesor titular (the Chilean equivalent of a full professor) at the University of Valparaiso, in one of the world’s best countries for doing astronomy, and it is no end of relief that their move may be completed without a lingering lawsuit back in the States.
Initially, I had some disappointment with the seemingly moderate amount of the settlement. After learning more about the University of Kentucky and its position in the state, various statutes and so on, there is great cause for rejoicing. It is apparently said that “UK never loses in Lexington,” so this is a blow to their juggernaut reputation. Due to the fact that UK is a public institution, punitive damages are not an option and there are limits to what one may ask for in a case like this, so only real losses are on the table, besides which, Dr. Gaskell is not one to weep for a jury. The settlement is pretty much what they could have asked for in a trial.
Furthermore, the amount is a real chunk of change, especially for a state like Kentucky in this economy. One commenter on a Lexington newspaper story said, “Kudos on your shakedown Dr Gaskell. It's time for UK to pay the piper and fire whomever mishandled this expensive fiasco.” Not only that, the settlement is only what Gaskell receives, and does not include the retainer and fees UK must pay its own lawyers.
In a similar vein, there is the perennial question about attorney fees depleting the settlement actually received by Gaskell. As another commenter on the same story concluded, “Gaskells [sic] gold-digging attorney made this a religious free-speech case....what a sham !” While excessive fees are often an issue, it is appropriate to be paid appropriately for one’s work. However, Frank Manion, Gaskell’s attorney with the American Center for Law and Justice (ACLJ), told the Scholar Redeemer, “No attorney fees, no costs, no anything is taken out of it. The ACLJ's representation was, as it always is, completely pro bono.”
It is interesting to see how the university and its supporters spin this: the University of Kentucky, National Center for Science Education, and the Huffington Post (with comments!) for starters. (I recommend Googling “University Kentucky Gaskell” for more info.) As expected, the university tries to get away with claiming no wrongdoing in its hiring practices, and leaves room for it to crow that it would have won the case had it gone to trial. However, the emails and depositions show otherwise to those like me that have looked at them. Folks who are thoughtful will see through the bluster.
On a slightly different tack, a few commenters on various sites, while congratulating Gaskell, have also taken him to task for not agreeing with them that the Bible and evolution are incompatible. As a scientist and a Christian, I have heard many folks with many different interpretations of the Scriptures on Creation. I have addressed this diversity of debate extensively in earlier posts on the Vibrant Dance Symposium. I think it is a healthy sign that there is debate on the issue, and I encourage fellow believers to remember to extend grace even on this deep of an issue. Gaskell is devoted to Christ, not some Force or vague Godlike concept. Scripture teaches us that salvation occurs through Christ and His atoning work alone, and not on how we read Genesis. I realize there is a discussion on one’s view of Scripture and its inerrancy at the root of this furor, but Scripture is not Christ, and Genesis was not on the cross, so it seems there is room at the Communion table for young earthers, old earthers, and theistic evolutionists to break bread together, even while discussing Origins intently.
While it may seem a settlement offers only the benefit of a minor legal precedent and frees the Gaskells from unwanted publicity, this story has gone viral, and is serving as a warning knell to anti-faith folks that it is not inconsistent to be a competent scientist and a person of deep faith. Furthermore, Gaskell no longer has the looming case preventing him from speaking out on the issue of faith discrimination, and gives hope to others in similar positions to stand firm. Martin Gaskell has stood in the gap, and stands, still.