An organization of atheists has sent letters to schools in a few counties near the Ark Encounter and its related Creation Museum, warning officials that they shouldn’t plan any field trips to those attractions because school events need to be “secular.”
But the group that runs them, Answers in Genesis, contends such visits, if school classes choose them, are constitutional.
Ken Ham, the CEO and founder of Answers in Genesis, argued that children already get “evolutionary and atheistic indoctrination … five days a week for the whole school year.”
That, he pointed out, includes “field trips to museums where evolution is presented as fact.”
His group’s religious freedom attorneys wrote in 2016 that “if public schools were bringing students to the Ark and museum and declaring, ‘THIS interpretation in the only real truth that you should personally accept,’ then that would be a violation of the Establishment Clause.”
“If classes are coming to the museum or Ark in an objective fashion, however, to show students world-class exhibits and one group’s interpretation of the origin of man and earth history, then the field trip is just fine as an exceptional and voluntary educational and cultural experience,” the attorneys wrote.
They said public school officials “should neither personally endorse nor diminish the museum’s view, but should present it objectively.”
“This principle is the same as ‘teaching the Bible in schools.’ It is well established that the Bible may be used in the classroom objectively, as part of a secular program of education, for the Bible’s inherent historic and literary value. As long as the teacher doesn’t take a personal position in the classroom that the Bible is true, the teacher can say, ‘Millions of people around the globe do believe it is true, and let’s look at the effect that belief has had upon the development of Western Civilization, history, culture, art, music, and all the rest.'”
They explained, “Surely, liberal civil rights groups like the ACLU and the FFRF would not argue that on a field trip to a local theater, the school inherently endorses and adopts all of the viewpoints and themes that may be presented in each production.”
It was the Kentucky branch of American Atheists that sent letters to schools in Hardin, Jefferson and Fayette counties, near the Ark and museum.
American Atheists state director Johnny Pike said he was particular concerned with field trips to those locations.
But state law allows students to pray in school, express and discuss religious viewpoints, and distribute literature subject to time and place restrictions.
Ham said the letter by the atheists was “nothing more than a bullying tactic to try and keep children from being exposed to the teaching at these attractions.”