James Bridenstine, Director of NASA, gave his Christian testimony at a Capitol Ministries dinner recently, and spoke about how faith played a part in significant historical NASA events.
The audience was riveted with his stories of how Apollo 8 astronauts read Bible verses while orbiting the moon and how Buzz Aldrin took Holy Communion after the Apollo 11 spacecraft landed on its surface.
Director Bridenstine is a sponsor of Capitol Ministries’ Washington, D.C. Bible studies, and he also spoke favorably about the ministry, and this has caused some in the media to accuse him of violating the Establishment Clause in the U.S. Constitution.
What is the Establishment Clause?
The Establishment Clause, found in the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, prohibits the United States government from establishing an official religion, and from taking action that favors one religion over another.
What Did Jim Bridenstine say?
In speaking at the dinner about Capitol Ministries, Director Bridenstine said: “We’re not trying to Christianize the U.S. government. We believe in an institutional separation, but we also believe in influence, and that’s a big distinction and an important distinction, and that’s why I love this ministry.”
In a story for the online publication BusinessInsider.com, science writer Dave Mosher quoted Craig Holman, a Capitol Hill lobbyist at Public Citizen, a liberal, progressive nonprofit organization who said “Director Bridenstine’s statement is a fairly obvious endorsement of a specific religion and a specific church.”
Jim Bridenstine Was Not Establishing a Church
Capitol Ministries is neither a religion, nor a church. It is a para-church organization whose mission is to make disciples of Jesus Christ in the political arena of the world (Interdenominational parachurch organizations are quite different than Churches. In fact they are legally defined and treated differently in the U.S. tax code).
Director Bridenstine was not attempting to establish a state-sponsored religion, nor was he endorsing a specific church or religion, nor attempting to coerce anyone in the United States to be a part of any religion. He was sharing his Christian testimony and talking about how faith had played a part in historical events.
Public servants from Benjamin Franklin to Abraham Lincoln to Presidents Clinton, Bush, Obama, and Trump have spoken publicly about their faith since our country’s founding. Such speech is protected by the First Amendment.
Tony Perkins, President of The Family Research Council, weighs in on this issue in his Washington Update. Read his story here.