Fifty years ago in 1968, Apollo 8 was the first NASA mission to reach the moon and orbit around it, a prerequisite to the later surface landing. While broadcasting live from orbit around the moon on Christmas Eve, the crew read Genesis 1:1-10, in what became the most watched television broadcast at that time. The program received an Emmy Award, the highest television award available. This facet of American history reveals how much a part of public life the Bible was, especially during the Christmas season.
The crew of Apollo 8 put significant thought into choosing their message on that occasion. NASA had simply told them, “Do something appropriate.” So after the crew discarded ideas such as “new verses to Jingle Bells” or “The Night before Christmas” as inappropriate, the wife of a friend of a friend suggested they read from Genesis.
William (Bill) Anders started the reading. Later, he said, “We wanted to do something significant, not so much religious…but more of a significant statement, that not just Christians and Jews would understand, but that all people, Buddhist, Hindu or atheist would react to in a deep and moving way to help them remember this event of exploration.” Jim Lovell agreed, since “the whole world does not consist of Christians,” they should “say something that is significant to the majority of the people in the world.” Lovell continued, concluding, “that is how it came to pass that on the last revolution of the moon, we read from the Old Testament, the first ten verses of Genesis, which is the foundation of many of the world’s religions.”
This reading was well received. “The first impression I had was ‘How appropriate,’” said John Aaron in Mission Control. Jerry Bostick, John’s co-worker, described the reading of Genesis as “One of the most memorable things of my life… It was very powerful.”
At the time, there were few complaints, but much has changed in the past 50 years. Now, the very idea of acknowledging “Christmas,” let alone its true origins, is being called into question. Yet, the Constitution does not require deleting all aspects of America’s Christian heritage from the public sphere.
Liberty Counsel has defended the celebration of Christmas and the inclusion of the reason for the season across the country, including Nebraska, where a principal banned staff from using the colors red and green, or from having candy canes, because they represented “Christmas” and “Jesus,” respectively. Liberty Counsel offered legal counsel and representation at no charge, to towns across America facing attacks for merely displaying a nativity scene; and helped teachers restore religious songs to school activities and plays that included secular motifs.
“The Christmas season is one of joy and goodwill, but anti-religious activists are trying to sanitize it of its true meaning,” said Mat Staver, Founder and Chairman of Liberty Counsel. “Fifty years ago, a Bible reading on Christmas Eve was considered appropriate, even as part of a multi-billion-dollar government space program orbiting the moon. It was appropriate then to publicly recognize the Creator, and it remains so today. Liberty Counsel will continue to help teachers, towns and others who wish to recognize the true meaning of Christmas – Christ’s birth, leading to forgiveness and reconciliation amongst mankind – among their recognitions of the holiday,” said Staver.