The Praise and Worship Club at the National Aeronautics and Space Administration’s (NASA) Lyndon B. Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas, has been told that it cannot use the word “Jesus” in meeting announcements placed in the JSC Today email newsletter, because it violates the Establishment Clause of the Constitution’s First Amendment.
The warning given to the club by the JSC Today legal team in May 2015 has recently picked up national attention, with the Liberty Institute attorneys sending a demand letter to NASA threatening a lawsuit on Feb. 8 and the CitizenGo website launching a petition drive on Feb. 17.
“The purpose of our club is simply to encourage one another, pray together, and worship God,” club spokeswoman Sophia Smith is quoted as saying on the Liberty Institute website. “Our meetings are open to anyone who would like prayer or is interested in what we do.”
In May 2015, the club submitted the following notice to the JSC newsletter:
“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.”
Following its publication, the JSC Today legal team told the club they could not include “Jesus” in future announcements, a move the Liberty Institute calls “religious discrimination.”
“It is illegal for the government to censor the name of Jesus in employee emails,” said Jeremy Dys, senior counsel for Liberty Institute. “Censoring a religious club’s announcement to specifically exclude the name ‘Jesus’ is blatant religious discrimination.
“NASA administrators are not above the law,” Dys said. “Government employers are required to respect the civil rights of its civil servants and contract employees—regardless of their religious viewpoint.”
The letter sent by Liberty Institute “informed NASA JSC’s legal team of NASA’s grave violation of its employees’ religious liberty and free speech rights. The letter threatens a federal lawsuit should NASA fail to immediately correct the problem.”
The CitizenGo online petition is seeking 10,000 signatures and has already gathered almost 8,000 since it was launched on Feb. 17.
“Our country is truly in a sad state if those who study the skies are not even allowed to mention the name of the Creator of the sky,” the CitizenGo website states.
“NASA has fallen prey to the incorrect progressive and liberal interpretation of the establishment clause... an interpretation that bars government employees from all displays of faith, even those that are voluntary or private. This interpretation is false and unconstitutional,” the website states.
The petition states: “This is religious discrimination and your demand that the group refrain from using the word Jesus runs contrary to the club members’ God-given and Constitutionally protected freedom of religion.”
In an interview with the Christian Broadcasting Network, Mike Fitzpatrick, president of the Praise and Worship Club, said that the club “let’s the world know that scientists and engineers believe in Jesus” and that he hopes for a positive outcome in the case.
“We’d like a certainty that what we’re doing is acceptable – I’d really like an apology from Johnson Space Center, from NASA, that our rights were infringed and that these rights are restored so in no uncertain terms that we can put Jesus back into the newsletter.”