Montana Students Have Constitutional Right to Go on Dinosaur Museum Field Trip Without Fearing Threats From Anti-Creationists, Says Legal Group

(Photo: Reuters/Herwig Prammer)A child touches the teeth of a model of a dinosaur at the Naturhistorisches Museum Wien (Museum of Natural History) in Vienna, April 3, 2012. The museum, which first opened in 1889, today consists of 39 exhibition halls with thousands of objects on display and some 25 million specimens and artefacts kept behind the scenes for scientific work for more than 60 staff scientists. It is one of the largest museums of its kind and one of the most important in Europe.

Montana students have a constitutional right to go on a public school field trip to a dinosaur museum, despite threats from secularists that a lawsuit would follow, according to a legal group based in Florida.

The Liberty Counsel, a conservative legal group, contacted officials at Glendive School District last Thursday regarding the public school system's cancellation of a field trip to the Glendive Dinosaur & Fossil Museum after administrators received a letter from the Washington D.C.-based secular group, Americans United for Separation of Church and State, threatening a potential lawsuit if the students went on the field trip because the museum teaches the biblical view of Creation.

The secular group's threat of a lawsuit led to the school district's decision to cancel the field trip for its elementary school students.

A representative of the museum forwarded The Christian Post a copy of the Liberty Counsel letter via email, which was sent to Glendive Superintendent Ross Farber.

"For a number of years, numerous public school districts across Montana, including the Glendive Public Schools, have taken children on field trips to the museum," reads the Liberty Counsel letter in part.

"In all of these field trips, there has been no serious suggestion that the museum was selected for the purpose of promoting a religious viewpoint about origins. Rather, it has been a field-trip destination because it is an excellent museum on paleontology in Montana."

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(Photo: Glendive Dinosaur and Fossil Museum)Glendive Dinosaur and Fossil Museum, a Creationist museum operated by Foundation Advancing Creation Truth, located in Glendive, Montana.

In the letter, which was also sent to members of the Glendive Board of Trustees, the Liberty Counsel emphasized that the field trip "remains constitutional, even if that museum has a religious viewpoint on origins, provided there is a secular pedagogical rationale for attendance."

"Mere attendance by means of a field trip at a museum does not constitute endorsement of every viewpoint contained in the exhibits," continued the letter.

"Thus, Liberty Counsel is confident, that even in the Ninth Circuit, the district could defend continued field trips to the Glendive Dinosaur & Fossil Museum, regardless of perceived religious content."

Known as the second-largest dinosaur museum in Montana, the Glendive Dinosaur & Fossil Museum is overseen by the creationist group Foundation Advancing Creation Truth, or FACT.

The Museum was scheduled to have approximately 100 elementary school aged students from Glendive Public Schools to come for a field trip.

Last month, the school district canceled the trip after receiving a letter of complaint from Americans United.

Rob Boston of Americans United called the cancellation his group's "latest victory" and pejoratively referred to the museum as the "Creationism indoctrination center."

"Believe me, these kids will be more disappointed years from now if entire careers are closed off to them because they were taught to disbelieve fundamental elements of modern biology as youngsters," wrote Boston.

"But if parents insist on exposing their children to Creationism, they are free to take their children to the 'CIC' themselves."