$125,000 Settlement for "Potentially Evangelical" Astronomer

Ashley Thorne

Martin Gaskell, an astronomer who was turned down for the position of observatory director at the University of Kentucky, will receive a $125,000 settlement from the university in a religious discrimination lawsuit, reports the Lexington Herald-Leader.

Peter Wood wrote an article about this case last month, originally published in the Chronicle of Higher Education. He noted that Gaskell had experience in establishing and running a similar observatory at the University of Nebraska, and that the university found him to be “clearly the most experienced” and “a leading candidate” among those applying for the position. The search committee unofficially ranked him as the first of seven serious candidates.

But when the search committee found that Gaskell had written and lectured on “Modern Astronomy, the Bible, and Creation,”—which ponders whether the Genesis account may be compatible with science—it began to suspect him of holding “creationist” views and of being “potentially evangelical.”

Peter wrote:

Imagine the reaction if the search committee had worried if its lead candidate were “potentially Muslim,” “potentially Jewish,” “potentially Catholic,” or “potentially atheist,” and then charged off looking for clues that his beliefs might interfere with the integrity of scientific work — a hunt that would include soliciting hearsay from others about what they suspect the candidate believes. The University of Kentucky administration, to its credit, tried to steer the search committee away from its eagerness to investigate Gaskell’s religious views, and some members of the department quite clearly felt uncomfortable with the tone of the discussion. But the record, at least to my eye, shows a department struggling to find a plausible professional cover story for a decision that is deeply infected by religious prejudice.

A few days before the search committee hired another candidate, committee chair Thomas Troland wrote an email expressing his disappointment over the expected outcome, reports Inside Higher Ed:

“It has become clear to me that there is virtually no way Gaskell will be offered the job despite his qualifications that stand far above those of any other applicant,” Troland wrote. “…[T]he real reason we will not offer him this job is because of his religious beliefs in matters that are unrelated to astronomy or to any of the duties that are specified to this position.”

Apparently the University of Kentucky was unable to come up with a plausible explanation of its decision to reject Martin Gaskell. The settlement vindicates his allegations of religious discrimination and may help to prevent future discrimination against others, who thus far have feared—with good reason—the consequences of evincing any openness to creationism. 

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