An Atheist-First Amendment public policy group charged today that NASA is violating the separation of church and state by permitting a "space missionary" memento on the latest Discovery Space Shuttle Mission.
On board the shuttle is a piece of an airplane that crashed in Ecuador in 1956 that carried members of the Missionary Aviation Fellowship. One of the shuttle astronaut contacted the Idaho-based group proposing that the item be taken into space as part of a government-funded exploration project. The event has re-ignited enthusiasm by religious groups for "space missionary" proselytizing.
"This is an inappropriate and unconstitutional use of resources," charged Dr. Ed Buckner, President of American Atheists. NASA is a scientific and exploratory agency that is funded by taxpayers. Its mission should not include religious grandstanding, or efforts to use outer space as a pulpit for religion."
Coincidentally, Dr. Buckner's late father, Rev. James C. Buckner of St. Christopher's Episcopal Church in League City, Texas, collaborated with Apollo 8 astronaut Cdr. Frank Borman to insert religion on the first lunar orbital mission in 1968. That mission included a Christmas Eve religious service as the spacecraft circled the Moon -- and prompted an unsuccessful lawsuit by American Atheists founder Madalyn Murray O'Hair. Ed Buckner stressed that "I loved my father, though I disagreed with him then and of course now. I did not reject my father when I rejected theism nor became an Atheist out of rebellion. I became an Atheist because theism ceased to make any sense to me."
Dave Silverman, Vice President and Communications Director for American Atheists said that in addition to being inappropriate and illegal, using NASA to promote sectarian religion "could fuel international tensions and resurrect images of American-sponsored proselytizing in the Middle East and elsewhere."
"This is supposed to be a 'new era' for international respect and cooperation," said Mr. Silverman. How do you think the non-Christian peoples of the world react when they see Americans pushing Christianity even in outer space?"