HOUSTON, Texas — A Christian employee group at NASA’s Johnson Space Center (JSC) in Houston says that they have been prohibited from mentioning the name of Jesus in company newsletters because it would appear that NASA favored Christianity over other religions.
According to the Liberty Institute, which has submitted a demand letter to NASA officials over the matter, the Praise and Worship Club was formed at the Center in 2001 by employees who wished to meet with other Christians during their lunch hour to discuss matters of the faith, pray and sing songs.
Last year, the club submitted an announcement for the company newsletter to that read, “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 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.”
However, after its inclusion in the company email, attorneys for NASA soon contacted club organizers to state that they should refrain from using the name of Jesus in the future. They stated that it would appear “sectarian” to cite Jesus—promoting Christianity over other religions—which they asserted would violate the Constitution’s Establishment Clause.
“We are shocked that NASA would censor the name of Jesus from our Praise and Worship Club’s announcement,” said club spokesperson Sophia Smith. “NASA has a long history of allowing the religious speech of its employees, so why would they ban ‘Jesus’ from our announcements?”
The Liberty Institute notes that in 1968, Apollo 8 astronauts Bill Anders, Jim Lovell, and Frank Borman read the Creation account from Genesis while orbiting the moon. While the late atheist Madeline Murray O’Hair sued NASA over the incident, she ultimately lost the legal challenge. A commemorative U.S. postal stamp was released the following year which included the phrase “In the beginning, God.”
Astronaut Buzz Aldrin also took communion on Apollo 11.
Club organizers offered to include a disclaimer in future announcements, noting that the event announcement was not endorsed but NASA, but were informed that doing so would not be sufficient in addressing the company’s concerns.
On Monday, the Liberty Institute sent a demand letter to JSC Chief Counsel Bernard Roan to demand that NASA overturn its ban on the name of Jesus.
“NASA JSC’s actions in censoring the name ‘Jesus’ from the JSC Today email newsletter are prohibited viewpoint discrimination,” it read in part. “We fail to see how such a mention in an advertisement that is tied specifically to the JSC Praise and Worship Club connotes state sponsorship, endorsement, or establishment of religion.”
NASA has released a statement about the matter, stating that it “does not prohibit the use of any specific religious names in employee newsletters or other 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,” it 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.”