A group of Christian employees at NASA’s Johnson Space Center has alleged violation of freedom of religious expression. According to the group, the authorities at NASA’s Johnson Space center, Houston, Texas, banned use of the name of “Jesus” in announcements appearing on the space center’s official email newsletter.
The JSC Praise and Worship Club, a group of Christian employees at the Johnson Space Center, claim that the center’s legal department advised them to stop posting to the center’s electronic newsletter announcements mentioning the religious name, “Jesus.”
The e-bulletin, known as JSC Today, is sent out regularly, and includes announcements of a variety of Space Center activities and events, such as sports and dancing.
The message, which reportedly sparked the row, appeared on the May 28, 2015, edition of the JSC Today newsletter.
“Join with the praise and worship band ‘Allied with the Lord’ for a refreshing set of spring praise and worship songs on Thursday, June 4, from 11:15 a.m. to noon in Building 57, Room 106,” the message said. “The theme for this session will be ‘Jesus is our life!’ Prayer partners will be available for anyone who has need. All JSC civil servants and contractors are welcome.”
Soon after the announcement was published, the center’s legal department called the group’s leaders and told them that “NASA would be censoring all future club announcements that featured the name, ‘Jesus.’ ”
“NASA would be censoring all future club announcements that featured the name, ‘Jesus.’ “
According to NASA attorneys, the decision was taken because NASA wanted to avoid including in the center’s newsletter “sectarian” or “denominational” announcements that could violate the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment.
According to Jeremy Dys, attorney with Liberty Institute, a Christian religious rights law firm representing the JSC Praise and Worship Club, the Christian club leaders offered to include in future announcements a disclaimer that the announcements were private speech not endorsed by NASA, but the space center authorities rejected the offer.
According to Dys, when the authorities declined the offer, “the club members knew right away that NASA was censoring them and they were not comfortable with that.”
Liberty Institute then filed a complaint on behalf of the group and threatened to file a federal lawsuit unless NASA apologizes and lifts the ban.
“The bottom line is that NASA should not be censoring this club just because they use the name ‘Jesus’ in an employee advertisement. That is blatant religious discrimination,” Dys said.
NASA engineer Sophia Smith, a member of the Christian group, told Fox News that members of the group were “shocked” and “frustrated” at the situation.
“It was shocking to all of us and very frustrating. NASA has a long history of respecting religious speech. Why wouldn’t they allow us to put the name Jesus in the announcement about our club?”
“NASA has a long history of respecting religious speech. Why wouldn’t they allow us to put the name Jesus in the announcement about our club?”
Smith told Fox News’ Todd Starnes that the JSC Praise and Worship Club had been meeting on the premises of the space center since 2001. The group meets during lunch hours for religious meetings, and NASA had not censored the group until last year.
According to the Liberty Institute, the move to expunge all references to “Jesus” in the space center’s newsletter was contrary to the spirit of the agency’s history of religious tolerance.
The attorneys cited examples of the agency’s history of religious tolerance.
In 1962, NASA astronaut Scott Carpenter said “Godspeed, John Glenn,” as NASA astronaut John Glenn embarked on the space journey that made him the first American to orbit the Earth.
In 1968, NASA Apollo 8 astronauts took turns to read the biblical Book of Genesis creation story during lunar orbit on Christmas Eve.
Astronaut Buzz Aldrin also took the communion on the lunar surface during the 1969 Apollo 11 mission.
The Supreme Court dismissed a federal lawsuit brought by Madalyn Murray O’Hair, an atheist who was opposed to NASA astronauts reading the creation story in orbit.
The high court dismissed the case due to lack of jurisdiction.
“NASA should continue its tradition of protecting the religious expression of its employees,” Dys concluded.
But NASA has since released a carefully worded statement denying that the agency prohibits the use of religious names in internal communications.
“The agency allows a host of employee-led civic, professional, religious and other organizations to meet on NASA property on employee’s own time,” the statement said. “Consistent with federal law, NASA attempts to balance employee’s rights to freely exercise religious beliefs with its obligation to ensure there is no government endorsement of religion.”
“We believe in and encourage open and diverse dialogue among our employees and across the agency,” the statement concluded.
[Photo By David J. Phillip/AP Photo]