Why would NASA ban the use of the word “Jesus” by a Christian group that advertises its meetings in an agency newsletter?
They’re only following federal guidelines, they say, about preventing the “government endorsement” of a religion.
“It was shocking to all of us and very frustrating,” NASA engineer Sophia Smith told me. “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?”
Liberty Institute, one of the nation’s largest religious liberty law firms, threatened to file a federal lawsuit unless NASA apologizes and stops censoring the name ‘Jesus’.
The JSC Today newsletter is distributed electronically and includes a number of Space Center events – from salsa dancing lessons to soccer camp.
NASA issued a statement late Monday – that did not refute Liberty Institute’s charge.
“NASA 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. 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.”
Since 2001, employees had gathered during their lunch hour to pray and sing and read the Bible. There had been no censorship issues until last year.
Liberty Institute attorney Jeremy Dys told me the club had placed an announcement in the Space Center’s newsletter – announcing the theme of their meeting, “Jesus is our life.”
Following is the complete posting that appeared in the May 28, 2015 edition of JSC Today:
“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.”
“Soon after that, the legal department called the organizers and told them they could not use the name Jesus in their announcements,” Dys told me. “They said, no Jesus.”
The club’s leadership was told that “NASA would be censoring all future club announcements that featured the name, ‘Jesus’,” Liberty Institute alleged in its complaint letter.
There is no indication from NASA that they received any complaints. This was simply an arbitrary decision by NASA legal eagles to stomp on religious freedom.
The interesting thing is, in addition to the obvious religious issue that the name “Jesus” inspires, there is also the completely secular, historical Jesus whose life and times are chronicled not only in the Bible, but in other texts as well — most notably, the historian Josephus. Why suppress stories about the life of an historical figure? Truly bizarre.
Using the name “Jesus” does not promote religion. It’s simply the name of a man known to history as a teacher, a philosopher, and a reformer. Anything else that is believed about him is protected by the First Amendment.
I really hope that the Liberty Institute sues the socks off NASA for this egregious violation of religious freedom.