In an era when any hint of Christian expression in the public arena is aggressively challenged by secularists who instead want to impose their anti-God religion on the culture, we need to remind all Americans of their First Amendment right of freedom of expression. One major example of how this constitutional guarantee is being trampled upon occurs in almost all government-run schools where a phrase—not found in the Constitution—is applied: the so-called separation of church and state.
In our increasingly secularized world, public school teachers not only come under fire if they even suggest they may be creationists, but their job security can also be threatened even if they just point out the flaws with the evolutionary belief system. Moreover, given the irony that teachers are supposed to enjoy academic freedom, it’s the brave principal or school superintendent, facing possible threats of lawsuits from “civil liberties” groups, who will give a teacher the go-ahead nowadays to bring students to the Creation Museum and/or our new Ark Encounter in Northern Kentucky. As such, field trips to the Creation Museum by public school groups have been rare.1 If secular groups happen to find out about even one school visit, they will go to the media with their bullying threats to intimidate school officials to stop such visits.
We want to remind educators in government-run schools of their constitutionally guaranteed rights.
With this article, we want to remind educators in government-run schools of their constitutionally guaranteed rights as they fulfill their goal of presenting broad educational experiences for their students and, along the way, helping to develop the critical thinking skills of their pupils.
To help widen students’ education, AiG is offering a special program to encourage public school classes to visit the Ark in Williamstown and be exposed to an exceptional and totally unique educational experience. If coming as a public school class, students pay only $1 each and their supervising public school teachers come free. The offer is good through the end of this year.
To help teachers better understand their rights and learn how their public school classes can visit the Ark Encounter or Creation Museum in a constitutionally and legally correct way, we will share excerpts of a letter exchange that AiG recently had with a young student in Minnesota. In our response, we corrected her misunderstanding about whether government-run schools can legally send students to the Creation Museum or the Ark Encounter. Both letters have been edited in order to keep this web article from running very long.
Dear Mr. Ham,
My name is Tina and I am a student at [school name withheld]. Through a project I recently completed, it has come to my attention that several public schools have visited your museum in school field trips. . . .
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, 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.
A student can practice their religion freely and without discrimination outside of school, so promoting a single religion at a school field trip discriminates against all other faiths. . . . It is unfair for public schools to take students to your museum, and dangerous to risk violating the Constitution.
A field trip is not the only way students can learn about creationism and God. Outside of school, students can read books and go to museums. It is unconstitutional to take students to your museum on these field trips, and allowing them to happen causes more harm than good. . . .
Thank you for reading my letter,
Thank you for your recent letter to Ken Ham. He has asked that I respond.
Actually, not very many public schools at all have visited the Creation Museum, contrary to popular myth. It’s been a rare occurrence over the nine years we have been operating. Schools are well aware that the ACLU and other so-called civil liberties groups will threaten lawsuits against school districts for bringing their young people here.
Please consider the following. We are not forcing public schools to visit the museum. In fact we have gotten to the point when public schools contact us (not often), we caution them about the possibility of an ACLU lawsuit.
Now, if the public schools who have been bringing students here declare, “THIS interpretation is the only real truth that you should personally accept,” then that would indeed be an Establishment Clause violation, which is your concern.
If classes are coming to the museum in an objective fashion, however, to show students some world-class exhibits and one group’s interpretation of the origin of man, then the field trip is just fine as an exceptional and voluntary educational/cultural experience (including ensuring that parental permission slips have been signed for each student).
Public school officials should neither personally endorse nor diminish the Creation Museum’s or Ark Encounter’s view, but rather present it objectively. I trust you agree with that approach.
This principle is the same as “teaching the Bible in history or literature classes,” as you alluded to in your letter. It is well established that the Bible may be used in the classroom objectively, as part of a secular program of education, for its inherent historic and literary value. As long as the teacher doesn’t take a personal position in the classroom that the Bible is definitely 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 . . . .”
Ultimately, it’s possible for classes to attend the Creation Museum to teach rather than preach, and to educate rather than indoctrinate.
Surely, you and liberal civil rights groups like the ACLU and the FFRF would not argue that on a field trip to a local theatre, the school inherently endorses and adopts all of the viewpoints and themes that may be presented in each production?
What do you think?
As we shared earlier this month in a web article, the atheist group Freedom From Religion Foundation (FRFF) has been bullying schools in our region in relation to the Ark. The FFRF distributed a news release that featured the headline: “FFRF Warning More Than 1,000 School Districts About New ‘Noah’s Ark.’” In part, the release declared:
The Freedom From Religion Foundation is advising public schools in more than 1,000 school districts against visiting a new religious theme park. . . . FFRF is already receiving inquiries from concerned parents that overzealous teachers or principals may mistakenly believe it appropriate to schedule school-related trips to the Ark Encounter, as has happened with the Creation Museum. In order to allay such concerns and to remind public schools of their constitutional obligations, it is sending a memo to every school district in Kentucky, Tennessee, Indiana, West Virginia and Ohio.
The FFRF is determined to trample on the First Amendment’s guarantee of freedom of expression. It is yet one more example of the FFRF engaging in intimidation tactics and violating the First Amendment as it bullies school districts with this legal threat.
As we shared in the letter to Tina above, on the basis of the US Constitution, public schools are certainly free to take students on field trips (with appropriate parental permissions) to places like our museum and Ark, as long as the trip is for historical, recreational, or educational purposes. FFRF has no legal basis at all to intimidate government-run schools, as they are now attempting. In fact, such secular groups are violating students’ rights by their bullying—and they are also in violation of the First Amendment.
We have previously stated that public school students could benefit from a visit to the Creation Museum and Ark Encounter for educational purposes. Of course, school officials should not endorse as truth what the students will see in our teaching displays and videos—and, to our knowledge, they don’t. This is similar to an instance when a class might be attending a play or watching a film; the school is not endorsing the content of the production or film in holding such field trips.
The Ark and Creation Museum offer an excellent opportunity to give students the exposure to a different point of view that is largely censored from most public schools.
The Ark and Creation Museum offer an excellent opportunity to give students the exposure to a different point of view that is largely censored from most public schools. No court ruling to our knowledge has determined that such educational outings to Christian venues are unlawful. Curiously, as a religious liberty attorney and friend of AiG observes, the “FFRF, in its ‘warning’ to school districts, provided no cases indicating the contrary.” Even when schools might visit a mosque for educational purposes, legal challenges have been unsuccessful. The same lawyer points out that “it is a fairly common practice for schools to take students to mosques and Hindu temples as part of a world religions class or a course in religious studies.”
Americans, whether Christians or not, should not allow groups like the FFRF to bully schools into accepting their twisted view of what is constitutional and what is not. Attorneys who are experts in First Amendment matters assure us that public schools are free to take students on field trips to any place they find educationally beneficial, which can include parks, museums, and even churches or mosques. The Constitution demands that states like Kentucky be neutral, not hostile, toward religious matters. We could even argue that, for a school principal to reject a teacher’s request for students to tour the Ark or Creation Museum, that principal would actually be hostile towards Christianity.
In its legal memo, the FFRF only asserts general platitudes about schools not advancing religion and their obligation to remain neutral. AiG’s attorney friend observes that “denying students the opportunity to see the Ark as part of educational experience would betray any pretense of neutrality.”
Let’s not tolerate the intolerant secularists who want to chip away at our First Amendment rights. We should stand up for our rights. Consider booking a public school group for a field trip to the Ark Encounter for educational, recreational, or historical purposes. During 2016, the cost will be only $1 per child, and their accompanying teachers come free. If you are a teacher or administrator in a public school, call 800-350-3232 ext. 377 to book your school group.