The Ark Encounter theme park, a site that accompanies Ken Ham's Creation Museum in using exhibits to promote a young-earth creationist worldview, has been under the eye of church-state separation watchdog group Freedom From Religion Foundation since before construction was completed. Concerns about the park, which depicts Noah's Ark as Ham believes it might have been based in part on Biblical description, have included religious preference expressed in hiring, tax credits, and public school field trips.
Now it seems the Ark Encounter and Creation Museum will be denied visits of another kind: group visits organized by local government groups.
The Christiansburg, Virginia Parks and Recreation Department had arranged a three-day trip to Kentucky, visiting the Creation Museum and Ark Encounter, along with an unnamed "mystery adventure." Though the full trip information no longer appears on the city's website, a search of the site still shows previews of the information.
"Ark Encounter and Creation Museum Additional Info: 3-Day Amazing Wonders... : The Ark Encounter & The Creation Museum Petersburg, KY. Trip includes: round trip..., tickets to 'The Creation Museum', 'The Ark Encounter' and also, a 'mystery adventure.'"The Roanoke Times ran further details of the Ark Encounter trip earlier this month.
Aside from cost and deadlines (participants had until February 28 to sign up), the trip information includes a description of the Ark Encounter park as a way to "experience the pages of the Bible like never before."
Along with dioramas featuring what Noah's family and living quarters might have looked like, the Ark Encounter includes exhibits showing caged dinosaurs on the Ark.However, the Freedom From Religion Foundation heard of the Ark Encounter trip through a concerned resident of the city, and Staff Attorney Andrew Seidel contacted Christiansburg Parks and Recreation director, Brad Epperly. The organization's report explains.
"FFRF urged the city to refrain from organizing an outing to such overtly religious sites."The letter praised efforts to organize family-friendly entertainment but suggested that the Ark Encounter fell outside the realm of entertainment appropriate for government involvement.
"The Ark Encounter is a proudly Christian ministry run by the creationist Ken Ham, who also built the Creation Museum. Ham has been open about the proselytizing nature of his projects right since the beginning."
"...advertising and organizing a trip to a Christian ministry constitutes government endorsement of religion and alienates those Christiansburg residents who are not Christian and who are non-religious."The FFRF reports that legal counsel quickly responded [PDF] on behalf of the city, assuring that the Ark Encounter trip had been canceled and would soon be removed from the city website.
Ken Ham, who is President of Answers in Genesis, the organization that operates both the Creation Museum and the Ark Encounter theme park, is known for vocal advocacy for removing instruction about evolution from school curriculums, and for calling evolutionary biology a religious belief.Recently, he described both evolutionary biology and descriptions of a millions-of-years-old Earth as "fake news." When the FFRF warned public schools in Kentucky against visiting the Ark Encounter park, Ham responded by asserting that the First Amendment assured schools' right to take field trips to the religious theme park. The First Amendment has been interpreted by courts in the past as forbidding government entities, including public schools, from engaging in activities that could be seen as showing a preference for one religion over another, or religion over nonreligion.
However, in this case, Ken Ham has as yet released no public comment about the Freedom From Religion Foundation's request to the city of Christiansburg Virginia, or the decision by the city's legal counsel to cancel the trip to the Creation Museum and Ark Encounter theme park.
In a statement, FFRF co-President Annie Laurie Gaylor said the following.
"The Ark Encounter and Creation Museum are Christian-themed hoaxes that no one should fall for, let alone a governmental body. We're glad that we were able to open the eyes of Christiansburg officials."[Featured Image by Aaron P. Bernstein/Getty Images]