GETTYBY TIM DEVANEY
NASA is embroiled in a religious freedom dispute with Christian employees, who claim they are being censored.
The Liberty Institute, which is representing the Christian employees, threatened Monday to sue NASA over what it claims is religious discrimination. At issue is whether a praise and worship club should be allowed to use the name “Jesus” in NASA’s employee newsletter.
NASA told the Christian employees last year the meeting announcement they posted in the newsletter violated the government’s responsibility to remain neutral on religious matters, according to the Institute. The agency did not tell the Christian employees to stop meeting during lunchtime, but did order the club to refrain from using the name “Jesus” in their emails.
The Christian employees hit back Monday, threatening to sue NASA for religious discrimination. They argue their religious speech should be protected because it comes from a group of individual employees and is not the official position of the agency.
“It is illegal for the government to censor the name of Jesus from emails authored by employees,” Jeremy Dys, senior counsel for Liberty Institute, said in a statement. “Preventing a religious club’s announcement just because it contains the name ‘Jesus’ is blatant religious discrimination. We call on NASA to end their censorship and apologize.”
In a statement to The Hill, NASA denied censoring religious terms from newsletters or emails.
“NASA does not prohibit the use of any specific religious names in employee newsletters or other internal communications,” said Karen Northon of NASA.
“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 praise and worship club has been meeting at NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston since 2001. They discuss their faith and sing worship songs during their lunch break.
“We are shocked that NASA would censor the name of Jesus from our Praise and Worship Club’s announcement,” said Sophia Smith, a NASA employee who is one of the Christian employees claiming religious discrimination.
“NASA has a long history of allowing religious speech by employees," she added. "In fact, in 1968, Apollo 8 astronauts read from the Bible while they were orbiting the moon, and it was broadcast on TV. So why would they ban ‘Jesus’ from our announcements?”
This story was updated at 7:30 p.m.