In 2009, Mark Armitage (below) was offered a part-time position as an Electron Microscopy Technician at California State University Northridge. It wasn’t a teaching position or anything, so the fact that he was a Creationist (and said as much during his interview) seemed irrelevant.
In 2012, after years of seemingly successful work in his position, he was asked to teach a class on Biological Imaging to graduate students. Again, his Creationist beliefs didn’t make a difference. (A microscope works whether or not you accept evolution.) I guess it also didn’t matter that his degrees came from Liberty University and the Institute for Creation Research.
Armitage was invited that summer to go on a dinosaur dig at the Hell Creek Formation in Montana. While there, he happened to uncover “the largest triceratops horn ever recovered from that site.” When Armitage studied the fossils back in his lab, he discovered something amazing: There were soft tissues present. There was no way that a 68,000,000-year-old fossil could have had any soft tissues still around — those tissues take no more than a million years to decay, tops.
So Armitage offered a different explanation: The fossil was much younger than we ever anticipated. Forget millions of years; think a few thousand. It was proof of Creationism! Somewhere, Ken Ham began dancing.
(I suppose now is a good time to point out that there actually is a very good explanation for how soft tissue in dinosaur bones could have survived: Iron in their bodies may have protected the tissue before it decayed.)
But just ignore that. Where were we? Oh, right. PROOF OF CREATIONISM!
Armitage began talking about the supposed Young Earth implications of his findings in his classroom, and word got back to Dr. Ernie Kwok, a biologist at the university. Armitage alleges that Kwok shouted at him, “We are not going to tolerate your religion in this department!!” (Which is a strange thing for Armitage to claim, since I didn’t know you could tell when someone verbally used two exclamation marks in a sentence.) No actions were taken against Kwok after this happened.
Armitage got his findings accepted in the journal Acta Histochemica the following January and published later that summer. (In case you’re wondering how that happened, the paper made no mention of Creationism, God, Intelligent Design, the age Armitage believed the tissues to be, or anything remotely controversial.)
Despite all this, He was fired at the end of the February. Armitage says in a recently-filed lawsuit that Kwok convinced his employers to get rid of Armitage because of his Christianity and that constitutes religious discrimination and violates his academic freedom rights. The school says Armitage was a great employee, but his appointment had always been temporary, there was a lack of funding, and his Creationism had nothing to do with his termination.
(I suppose now is a good time to point out that Armitage once wrote a book called — and I’m totally serious — Jesus is Like My Scanning Electron Microscope.)
There’s really no smoking gun in the lawsuit that proves Armitage was fired because of his Creationist beliefs. Just a lot of hearsay and conspiracy theories.
This seems like a very simple case to decide. A guy lost his part-time job and he’s upset, so he’s looking for any justification he can find. Meanwhile, California is an “at-will” state; if you’re hired in a position like the one Armitage had, even if you’re very good at it, your employer can fire you at any time, with or without cause. The school has the upper hand no matter how you look at it.
This lawsuit won’t go anywhere, I suspect, but I doubt that’ll stop Armitage from holding up the banner of a Christian martyr, fired for his sincere beliefs… even though his biggest claim to fame has a perfectly natural explanation.
(via Religion Clause)