Liberty Institute has threatened legal action against NASA’s Johnson Space Center (JSC) in Houston, charging that employees who comprise a praise group were prohibited from using the name of Jesus in emails advertising a meeting.
NASA banned the praise group from using the name of Jesus after the group sent emails announcing the theme “Jesus is our life” for a meeting in a space center building, Liberty Institute and attorneys Fish & Richardson P.C. of Dallas informed NASA in Feb. 8 official correspondence.
“We write regarding NASA’s Johnson Space Center’s (JSC) refusal in May/June of 2015 to allow the JSC Praise & Worship Club to continue to use the word ‘Jesus’ in advertisements for the club in the JSC Today, NASA JSC’s weekly email newsletter,” reads the letter posted at LibertyInstitute.org. “NASA JSC’s censoring of the club’s religious viewpoint is a violation of federal law and the First Amendment.”
NASA’s JSC committed “prohibited viewpoint discrimination,” and violated the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, the letter charges, and asks the governmental agency to reverse its decision by March 10 to avoid repercussions in court.
“Given NASA JSC’s clear violation of the rights of the JSC Praise & Worship Club and its members, we request that NASA JSC reconsider its position and notify us, in writing, that NASA will remove its prohibition of the use of the name ‘Jesus’ from the Club’s future advertisements,” the letter requests. “Please let us know NASA JSC’s response to this letter in writing no later than March 10, 2016. Should we receive no response (or an inadequate one) by that date, we are prepared to enforce the Club’s rights in court, where we believe we will win.”
NASA has not responded to Baptist Press’ request for information, but in other news reports, NASA refused to deny the claim. Instead, NASA spokespersons said the agency promotes freedom of speech among employees.
“NASA does not prohibit the use of any specific religious names in employee newsletters or other internal communications,” NASA’s Karen Northon told “The Hill” political news website. “The agency allows a host of employee-led civic, professional, religious and other organizations to meet on NASA property on employees’ own time. Consistent with federal law, NASA attempts to balance employees’ 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 JSC Praise & Worship Club has met at the center since 2001, and is one of several employee groups that meet during lunch “to encourage one another, pray together and worship God through singing,” Liberty Institute said, and meetings are open to all JSC civil servants and contract workers.
In the announcement in question, the club wrote, “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, (2015) 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.”
The group has complied with the order pending any legal action, said Liberty Institute, which is soliciting signatures in support of the praise team at libertyinstitute.org.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Diana Chandler is Baptist Press’ general assignment writer/editor.)