A group of NASA employees are accusing officials at the Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas, of banning Jesus' name from a staff e-mail newsletter, with their attorney telling The Church Boys podcast this week why he believes that the space agency is on shaky legal ground.
Jeremy Dys, senior counsel for the conservative Liberty Institute law firm, also offered up a warning for atheists and members of other non-Christian faiths who are employed by NASA, telling them to consider the implications for their own religious freedom.
"The atheist groups, the other religious groups ought to be paying attention to this," he said. "Because if NASA can censor out one word, because they think it's too religious or it is too far, what other words are they able to censor as well?
Listen to Dys explain what reportedly happened to the Praise and Worship Club — a group of Christian NASA employees — below:
Problems began back in May 2015 when Praise and Worship group organizers submitted a routine announcement to JSC Today, a daily e-newsletter that is sent to everyone working at the Johnson Space Center that provides information on campus events.
"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 notice read. "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 announcement ran, but lawyers reportedly reached out to the group members and explained that including "Jesus" in e-communications that were sent out would no longer be permitted, as it was considered a violation of the First Amendment.
"They said, 'You can't have Jesus, but you can have 'God' or 'Lord' — things that are more generic and less sectarian," Dys said, going on to describe the Praise and Worship club's intents. "It's a lunchtime conversation, an opportunity to encourage one another through singing and praying with each other."
Photo: Shutterstock/Songquan Deng
It was the purported response from NASA that stunned Sophia Smith, a 30-year employee in the International Space Station Program Office.
"We are shocked that NASA would censor the name of Jesus from our Praise and Worship Club’s announcement," Smith said in a statement. "NASA has a long history of allowing the religious speech of its employees, so why would they ban ‘Jesus’ from our announcements?"
Dys said that he's hopeful that the club — and its 16 individual members who are being represented by the Liberty Institute — "will be allowed to continue to use the name of Jesus." The law firm is currently awaiting an official reply from NASA.
On Monday, NASA released a statement to Fox News' Todd Starnes, saying that there is not a specific ban on religious names.
"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," it read. "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."
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