A biologist is suing the prestigious Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, claiming he was fired in 2004 after he told his boss he does not believe in evolution.
Nathaniel Abraham, who worked as a postdoctoral researcher in a biology lab of the Cape Cod research center, is seeking $500,000 in compensation for his firing, which he claims was a violation of his civil rights.
In his lawsuit, filed last week in U.S. District Court, Abraham said he lost his job shortly after he told his superior that he did not accept evolution as scientific fact.
Evolution is a fundamental tenet of biology that says new species emerge because of genetic changes to organisms that, over time, favor their survival. Creationists believe in a literal reading of the Bible's story of creation.
"Woods Hole believes they have the right to insist on a belief in evolution," said David Gibbs III, one of Abraham's attorneys and general counsel of the Christian Law Association in Seminole, Fla.
Gibbs said Abraham "truly believes there was no conflict between religion and his job."
In a 2004 letter to Abraham, his boss, Woods Hole senior scientist Mark Hahn, wrote Abraham said he did not want to work on "evolutionary aspects" of the National Institutes of Health grant for which he was hired, even though the project clearly required scientists to use the principles of evolution in their analyses and writing.
Woods Hole officials said the center does not discriminate on the basis of religion.
"The Institution firmly believes that its actions and those of its employees concerning Dr. Abraham were entirely lawful," they said in a statement.
Abraham was hired by Hahn's marine biology lab in March 2004 because of his experience working with zebra fish and in toxicology and developmental biology, according to court documents. He did not tell anyone his creationist beliefs before being hired.
Abraham filed a complaint with the Massachusetts Commission Against Discrimination in 2005.
The commission dismissed the complaint earlier this year, saying it would be challenging for Woods Hole to employ Abraham because of his request not to work on evolutionary aspects of the project.