Chapter 13: The Aftermath of the Arkansas Trial
The Case of the Unmailed Letter
A few weeks before my departure from ORNL I learned that Steve Clark, the Arkansas Attorney General, was
considering writing a letter to several Congressmen about my situation. A year and a half later, in the spring of
1984, I asked the former Deputy Attorney General (who handled the State's case for the Arkansas creation trial) to
investigate whether such a letter was ever sent from the Attorney General's office. In his investigation this former
Deputy Attorney General found a letter to Senator Bumpers in the state archives in Little Rock. According to him,
the plan was for identical copies of this letter to be individually addressed to each member of the entire Arkansas
Congressional delegation after the copy to Senator Bumpers was signed and the date affixed. Curiously this letter,
which was apparently signed about the time of my departure from the Laboratory, was never dated or sent. No one
seems to know exactly how this happened. The letter is copied below so that readers may ponder for themselves
what events may have transpired had it been sent.
The Honorable Dale Bumpers
United States Senator
New Senate Office Building
Washington, D.C. 20515
Dear Senator Bumpers:
In my recent defense of Act 590 of 1981 (better known as the Creation-Science Law), I had the opportunity
to become acquainted with several of the world's leading scientists who testified on behalf of both the State and
the American Civil Liberties Union. Of all the scientists involved on both sides of the lawsuit, no one
impressed me anymore than Robert Gentry, who for the past several years has been a guest scientist at the Oak
Ridge National Laboratory in Oak Ridge, Tennessee. This letter is written to bring to your attention Mr.
Gentry's work and to enlist your aid on his behalf.
Mr. Gentry's testimony at trial concerned the presence of radioactive polonium halos in granite. The
significance of these halos is that their presence in the granites is fundamentally inconsistent with the
conventional wisdom that the granites underlying the earth's structure cooled over thousands of years. Mr.
Gentry is acknowledged as the world's foremost authority on this particular subspecialty.
From every indication available to me, Gentry's work at the National Laboratory has been of a uniformly
high quality and has added significantly [p. 173] to the progress made at the facility. Furthermore, as a guest
scientist, Gentry has been paid only $1.00 per year by the government. (A college of which he is a faculty
member has paid his salary.) Thus, the government has been able to avail itself of his services essentially free of
However, Mr. Gentry has recently learned that his contract as a guest scientist will not be renewed for next
year. As one admittedly viewing these events from afar, it appears to me that Gentry is being penalized for his
generous offer of assistance to help the State of Arkansas and his own religious beliefs. Bob Gentry is very
frank and forthright in stating his religious beliefs, of that there can be no doubt. His religious beliefs are,
however, irrelevant to the work which he performs at Oak Ridge. His work in studying granites was recently
quoted in the Congressional Record in connection with a discussion of possible sites for storage of low level
radioactive wastes. Obviously, this is an important issue and one on which Gentry has been on the cutting
I want to ask for your assistance to assure that Robert Gentry will not be a victim of religious
discrimination at the hands of his supervisors. The Oak Ridge National Laboratory, although operated by a
private corporation under a contract, is, as I understand it, under the jurisdiction of the U.S. Department of
Energy. I solicit your help in contacting the Energy Department through appropriate channels and requesting
that the decision to not renew Gentry's contract be reviewed personally by the Secretary of Energy to assure
that this decision was based solely upon the merits of his work, and not upon the subjective prejudices of his
supervisors. It will be a sad day, indeed, if the First Amendment's guarantee of freedom of religion and the
supposed freedom of scientific inquiry have both become hollow promises for men like Bob Gentry.
If I can supply you with any additional information regarding this matter, please call upon me at your
/s/ Steve Clark
||(Clark 1982; Appendix)|
Final Inquiry by a Member of Congress
Attorney General Clark's letter never reached Congress. However, in 1984, Don Strother, a Baptist minister in
Johnson City, Tennessee, whom I did not know, wrote to U.S. Representative James H. Quillen, First District of
Tennessee, and asked for an inquiry into the circumstances surrounding my departure from the Laboratory. The
following letter relates the outcome of [p. 174] the investigation by the U. S. Department of Energy in Oak Ridge,
Honorable James H. Quillen
United States House of Representatives
Cannon House Office Building
Washington, D. C. 10515
|(September 4, 1984)|
Dear Mr. Quillen:
This is in reference to your letter dated August 6, 1984, to Secretary Hodel concerning Dr. Robert V.
Gentry, a former guest scientist at the Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL).
Our records reflect that Dr. Gentry's association with ORNL began in July 1969 with Columbia Union
College as his supporting sponsor. The original purpose was to conduct his own research on radioactive halos,
which was an area of interest to ORNL at the time, but during the late 1970's became less significant at
Since his work in the Department of Energy's Waste Isolation Program involved moderately low priority
supporting research, Dr. Gentry was advised in June 1981 that he should seek other arrangements under which
to pursue his research interests beyond June 30, 1982. This decision was the result of diminishing ORNL
budgets that required a cutback in activities not directly related to high priority program areas. We have found
no evidence to suggest that Dr. Gentry's religious beliefs influenced this decision in any way.
We appreciate your interest in this matter.
/s/ Joe La Grone
Joe La Grone
Manager, Oak Ridge Operations
Department of Energy
|(La Grone 1984)|
This is a carefully worded letter. I never said that my religious beliefs per se were responsible for my
termination, but I do believe that the negative publicity from the Arkansas trial was a factor.
After this letter was sent, I had a cordial visit with two officials at the Oak Ridge National Laboratory whom I
hold in the highest esteem. I expressed gratitude for the thirteen years I was allowed to remain at ORNL and asked
about the possibility of resuming my search for superheavy elements. While the response was negative at that time,
nevertheless a change in circumstances may yet result in a favorable decision. In the meantime my research
continues using other facilities.