By Andrew L. Seidel
Freedom From Religion Foundation
By my count, Ken Ham and his pious brethren have written more than 4,500 words claiming that public schools can legally organize field trips to the ark park. That’s not counting interviews or social media. He recently published his fourth piece, again defending the claim. In all that rhetorical meandering, Ham fails to cite a single legal precedent in favor of his insupportable position.
The closest Ham gets to the law is quoting an attorney who runs “a distinctly Christian” non-profit law firm, an attorney who fails to mention something important: the law. The attorney also failed to grasp the major problem: Public schools cannot take schoolchildren to a place that admits to a sole goal of converting them to Ham’s particular brand of religion or, as he put it, “preaching the gospel and defending the faith, so that we can reach as many souls as we can.”
Instead Ham’s lawyer seems to think the constitutional problem with taking children to the ark park is “because its existence [i.e., the story of Noah’s ark] is described in the Bible.” That certainly contributes to the unsuitability of the park for public schools, but it is not the defining problem. The legal stumbling block is that Ham presents the story as divine truth and his park attempts to convert others to this belief.
This basic failure to understand and cite law is to be expected from a religious ministry that traffics in fantasy, not facts.
Ham’s latest screed also tells the story of Tina, “a young student from Minnesota,” who wrote to Ham recently, arguing against these field trips in much the same way FFRF has:
Several religious and civil rights organizations outlined the law in a set of general rules around what schools can and can’t do with religion. For example, creationism cannot be taught in science classes, but religion can be discussed in history classes. Although religion may be part of history classes, schools cannot encourage Christianity with the field trips to your museum. The field trips to the Creation Museum violate the separation of church and state. In the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment, many would argue that the Founding Fathers’ sole intention was to prevent a national religion. Even though it isn’t directly in the Constitution, [the phrase] “separation of church and state” was meant to clarify the First Amendment, and should be considered part of the Constitution. As many court cases have ruled, a single religion should have no place in schools. Therefore, a school field trip to a museum such as yours—even when optional—shouldn’t have a place in public schools either.
Tina schooled Ham. Tina, if you’re out there and not simply another invention of Ham’s (like his creative interpretation of Genesis’ silence on Noah’s solution for dealing with the massive amount of animal waste p on the ark), you are right. Take it from a constitutional attorney, you understand the law better than Mr. Ham and his lawyer. Please reach out to us if you ever want to intern at FFRF.
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The Creation “Museum” and ark park are designed to preach and indoctrinate. There’s simply no way for public schools to take students there to teach and educate, Ham’s unsupported and unsupportable assertions notwithstanding.
Deep down, I think Mr. Ham realizes this. Sure, he’s offered admission discounts to public schools (perhaps to offset the abysmal attendance thus far). But if he was so certain of his position, even though he can’t cite any law, he would put his money where his mouth. He would publicly promise to personally indemnify any public school against any litigation fees and costs the school incurs in a court case, including paying the plaintiff’s attorneys’ fees if the school loses.
Right now, he’s happy to lead school districts astray with promises of reduced admission because he knows it won’t cost him a penny. The school district will get sued for violating students’ rights, lose, and have to pay for our side’s attorneys’ fees. In the Dover case, which found that intelligent design was just creationism rebranded, those fees and costs exceeded $1 million. Ham hasn’t done this because, despite his many public protestations, he’s uncertain. Ken Ham knows that there is no legitimate, legal way a public school can visit his park. He should stop claiming otherwise.
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