The Freedom From Religion Foundation wants NASA to revoke a grant in excess of $1 million to a Christian-focused religious institute.
In May 2015, NASA's astrobiology program awarded $1.108 million to the Center of Theological Inquiry for "an interdisciplinary inquiry on the societal implications of astrobiology, the study of the origins, evolution, distribution, and future of life in the universe." Center Director William Storrar stated at the time, "The aim of this inquiry is to foster theology's dialogue with astrobiology on its societal implications, enriched by the contribution of scholars in the humanities and social sciences."
The principal thrust of the grant is theological—and therefore religious. And though ostensibly ecumenical, the Center of Theological Inquiry is "rooted in Christian theology," according to its website. NASA is giving money to a religious organization to determine how the possible future discovery of extraterrestrial life might impact Christian theology and religious beliefs.
The grant is patently unconstitutional, FFRF asserts. Government-funded scientific studies of theology create state-church entanglements.
"The Establishment Clause of the First Amendment prohibits any 'sponsorship, financial support, and active involvement of the sovereign in religious activity,'" FFRF Staff Attorney Andrew Seidel writes to NASA officials. "Specifically, the government may not fund religious projects, as various courts have ruled over the years."
Then there is the issue of use and misuse of scarce taxpayer dollars. The utilization of a significant amount of tax money to determine how theology—by definition a faith-based belief system—might respond to speculative future scientific discoveries is wasteful for two reasons.
First, religion deals in matters of faith, not fact, and faith-based arguments inevitably boil down to arguments that cannot be settled by appeal to empirical evidence. Second, history shows that religion does one of two things when presented with scientific discovery: denial or incorporation of the fact as "evidence" or "proof."
"FFRF and our membership truly admire the work NASA has done over the years," says FFRF Co-President Dan Barker. "But this grant crosses the constitutional line and misuses precious tax dollars reserved for true scientific endeavor. NASA needs to immediately retract the grant."
The Freedom From Religion Foundation is an organization dedicated to the separation of state and church, with 23,800 nonreligious members all over the country.