After alleged ban, “Jesus” reappears in Johnson Space Center newsletter

The name “Jesus” has reappeared in the Johnson Space Center newsletter, drawing celebration from a religious freedom advocacy group that claimed NASA banned the name from publication.

The First Liberty Institute made the announcement Tuesday, exactly one month after threatening the space agency with a federal lawsuit over what it claimed was “blatant religious discrimination” against Christian employees in a prayer club at the Johnson Space Center.

The issue stems from an announcement that ran in the JSC Today newsletter last May.

According to the First Liberty Institute, the newsletter is emailed to all employees who work at the Houston facility. The JSC Praise and Worship Club, like other groups, routinely submitted announcements to the newsletter as a way to spread the word about its upcoming gatherings.

On May 28, the newsletter published an club-written announcement that included the line “The theme for this session will be Jesus is our life!” and invited other JSC employees to attend.

The First Liberty Institute claims that attorneys from NASA subsequently contacted the club and told them that “Jesus” could not be used in any future announcements, as it could lead someone to believe that NASA was endorsing Christianity and therefore violating the Establishment Clause, which prevents government entities from promoting one religion over another.

The employees countered that their speech was private and NASA’s restrictions amounted to illegal censorship. The club stopped using “Jesus” in announcements as it sought legal advice.

On February 17, nine days after the First Liberty Institute contacted the space agency, the newsletter published a JSC Praise and Worship Club announcement that included the line “The theme for this session will be Jesus is our Victory!” showing the name did appear in the email.

NASA’s attorneys contacted the First Liberty Institute the following day, saying there is no ban.

“JSC does not prohibit the use of any specific religious names in employee newsletters or other internal communications,” Chief Counsel Bernard J. Roan wrote in a letter to the institute.

Roan added in his letter that some NASA employees had expressed concerns that the prayer club’s May 28 announcement “went beyond mere announcement of the time, place and general nature of an activity; was essentially proselytizing; and, and as such, was inappropriate.”

He said that attorneys reached out to the club to discuss those concerns, but did not mention what, exactly, those conversations entailed. He did note the newsletter has published several “religiously-oriented postings” from the prayer club and other groups in the past few months.

“It is clear from subsequent ‘JSC Today’ postings for the Club that JSC to this day continues to facilitate its employees’ right to freely exercise their religious beliefs,” Roan wrote.

First Liberty’s Senior Counsel, Jeremy Dys, welcomed the recent developments.

“Although NASA’s initial censorship of the name ‘Jesus’ gave the Praise & Worship Club cause for alarm, we are grateful NASA took subsequent corrective action, and now clarifies its policy permitting religious expression by its employees,” Dys said in a statement.

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