Questions of religious freedoms take off at NASA

Rachel Belson, Contributing Writer

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Over the years, NASA has hosted a variety of non-NASA-affiliated organizations and group conferences in its buildings, so long as NASA employees hold these meetings and events on their own time.

These groups might cover things such as outings, recreation and religion.  Religion, specifically Christianity, has always had a place with the NASA corporation.  Employees, on Earth and in space, have freely practiced Christianity since NASA was founded in 1958.

In fact, there has never been a problem with using the name “Jesus” until May 2015.

May 2015 is when censorship of religious specificity made an appearance at NASA.  A group of Christian organizers were told that they could no longer use the name “Jesus” on the Johnson Space Center newsletter when promoting their club, JSC Praise and Worship Club.

The president of JSC Praise and Worship Club, Mike Fitzpatrick, spoke on the behalf of the group, stating that they wish to receive an apology from NASA, as well as see religious freedom restored.  NASA’s legal team became involved and stated that mentioning the name “Jesus” made the announcement sectarian and denominational.  A denomination refers to any one branch of Christianity.  No matter if a Christian identifies as a Catholic, Methodist, Presbyterian or anything else, they all agree all the same basic precepts. Simply mentioning “Jesus” is not, by definition, “denominational.”

From what I understand, NASA offers a universal freedom of religious speech. Christianity is not the only faith that falls under this protection. There are certainly practitioners of other faiths at NASA, and the precedent here has the potential to affect them as well.

In the past few years, a social shift has spread across the U.S. making it acceptable to rename Christian holidays. Non-Christian holidays, in contrast, remain unchanged. College students do not receive a four-day weekend for Easter, which is the second most important holiday in the Christian faith.

Easter is surrounded by Good Friday, the day of Jesus’ crucifixion; Easter Sunday, Jesus’ resurrection; and Easter Monday, the day Jesus returned to heaven.  In college, if you are of Jewish or Muslim faith, you are granted an excused absence for that day; but, if you are of Christian faith, missing Good Friday or Easter Monday is not typically accepted as an excused absence.

If NASA, as well as our nation, wants to remove Christian words and symbols from its internal dialogues, it should hold all spiritual faiths to the same standard.  Singling out one religion is not conducive to a policy that was probably meant to promote spiritual equity.  Any religious censorship flagrantly disregards the U.S. Constitution.

The First Amendment states, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.”

Such protections surely apply to Christian words and symbols. As NASA is a government-funded organization, shouldn’t constitutional standards apply to it as well?

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