Houston, We Have a Religious Freedom Problem

Houston, We Have a Religious Freedom Problem wwing via iStockPhoto.com

Some are calling it political correctness “gone mad”: The National Aeronautics and Space Administration has prohibited a group of Christian employees from writing “Jesus” in a newsletter. Did NASA’s legal department make the right call?

The dustup occurred at NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston, the base for thousands of NASA employees. Last May, a group of NASA workers, calling themselves the JSC Praise and Worship Club, held a meeting with the theme “Jesus is our life” and promoted the meeting in a JSC newsletter.

According to the club, an in-house lawyer contacted the group a few days later and told it that all future announcements containing the word “Jesus” would be censored. NASA apparently feared violating the First Amendment’s Establishment Clause.

The club claims it offered to add a disclaimer next to future event announcements explaining that references to Jesus were private speech, unendorsed by NASA or the federal government. NASA’s legal team allegedly rejected this idea.

The battle escalated on Feb. 8, when the club had a lawyer, Carl Bruce of the high-powered litigation firm Fish & Richardson, fire off a demand letter. In it, Bruce, who is representing the employees pro bono, argued that NASA is engaging in unconstitutional viewpoint discrimination.

The employees are also supported by the Liberty Institute, a nonprofit that provides legal representation in religious freedom cases.

NASA defended its actions in a statement provided to Todd Starnes of Fox News, who first wrote about the incident. “The agency allows a host of employee-led civic, professional, religious and other organizations to meet on NASA property on employees’ own time,” NASA said. “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.”

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