The Johnson Space Centre JSC Praise and Worship group has been asked by NASA attorneys to refrain from using the word “Jesus” in club announcements that appeared in a Space Center newsletter.
“It was shocking to all of us and very frustrating,” NASA engineer Sophia Smith told Fox News. “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?”
The JSC Today newsletter is distributed electronically and includes a number of Space Center events – from salsa dancing lessons to soccer camp.
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’.
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 said that the club had placed an announcement in the Space Center’s newsletter – announcing the theme of their meeting, “Jesus is our life.”
NASA’s legal department explained that including the name ‘Jesus’ within the club’s announcement made that announcement “sectarian” or “denominational.”
They also alleged such announcements would cause NASA to violate the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment to the United States Constitution.
The club members offered to include a disclaimer in the newsletter saying that the announcement was private speech but the company rejected that declaring that it was “insufficient”.
“The club members knew right away that NASA was censoring them and they were not comfortable with that,” Dys said
“The bottom line is that NASA should not be censoring this club just because they use the name ‘Jesus’ in an employee advertisement,” Dys added. “That is blatant religious discrimination.”