On June 6 I reported that the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) gave a $1 million grant to the Center for Theological Inquiry to study the societal (read “theological”) implications of looking for extraterrestrial life. In other words, U.S. taxpayer money was going to finance people to figure out how Jesus would save aliens. To me, this seemed like a violation of the First Amendment: an unconscionable entanglement of church and state.
The Freedom from Religion Foundation (FFRF) thought so too. Only three days after I reported this, and sent it to the FFRF, they sent a letter to NASA laying out the problematic legal issues and asking that NASA rescind the grant. They also filed a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request with NASA to get all the details about how the grant was submitted and approved, and who was involved. Since then there have been three developments, which I report with permission.
First, NASA said they’d investigate the issue:
Then NASA quickly responded to the FOIA request. You can do this by filling in an online form (here it is), and NASA’s response came only two days thereafter, saying they couldn’t process the FOIA request because it wasn’t specific enough. You can see in the indented bits what the FFRF’S lawyer, Andrew Seidel, asked for. NASA’s refusal is problematic to me and to the FFRF because it asks the FFRF to specify names and dates, things that nobody outside NASA could possibly know. What they should be sending is everything related to the grant. In other words, they’re refusing to comply fully.
Seidel then clarified his request on June 15, asking for all records relating to the application and approval of the grant, including things like emails and phone notes. NASA responded (below) within a day. As you can see below, NASA agreed to send just the “grant file,” which doesn’t include all communications but presumably only the formal application, review, and approval. NASA says they’re “unable to conduct a wide-ranging search for all communications related to this grant.” That, of course, is completely bogus, for they can sweep their servers for emails and the like:
The question is this: why is NASA being so obstructive in providing the materials that were legally requested? The people at FFRF are being charitable and simply making no assumptions, but I’m not part of this case, so I’ll surmise that NASA is hiding something embarrassing.
Maybe I’m wrong, but we shall see, for the FFRF is going to go after them again when it gets the case file. Their request will presumably include every email and every phone note and communication from every person named in the grant file.