By Jack Strauss
Mr. Wipple was an atheist who objected when the National Aeronautics and Space Administration scheduled a flight to the moon during the Christmas season.
In particular, he strongly objected to the astronauts making religious Christmas statements on television during their flight, and taking religious items with them which they placed on the moon.
What’s more, he made his objections in court – demanding that NASA be ordered not to permit similar activities in the future.
“Under the Constitution,” Mr. Wipple complained, “There’s supposed to be a complete separation between church and state. Yet, NASA is spending my money – as a taxpayer – in promoting religion in space. While it may be just fine for Santa Claus and his reindeer to go sailing through the ozone, spreading good cheer, the cost of the moon trip shouldn’t be one of my Christmas bills.”
“Nonsense,” responded a NASA official. “If it costs us a few bucks to let our astronauts take a few religious objects on their trip, what’s the big deal? They are religious men and it made them feel more secure. As for scheduling the moon shot for Christmas, that’s not so unusual either. Almost everybody goes somewhere for Christmas.”
IF YOU WERE THE JUDGE, would you order NASA to refrain from similar religious involvements in space in the future?
This is how the judge ruled: NO! The judge held that the Constitution does not require the country to be hostile to religion – just neutral. Considering the seriousness of the space journey and the risks involved, concluded the judge, NASA’s relativity minor expenditure – to accommodate the astronauts in attaining greater peace of mind along the way – was perfectly permissible to promote the success of their mission.
(Based upon a 1969 United States District Court Decision)
Jack Strauss, a retired New York City trial attorney who now resides in Berea, wrote a syndicated column for 36 years called, “What’s the Law?” It appeared in papers coast to coast, including the Pittsburgh Press, the Los Angeles Examiner, the Hartford Times, the Kansas City Star and the Philadelphia Daily News, among many others. It appears here with his permission.
Copyright, 1979, United Feature Syndicate, Inc.