The nation's largest atheist group is demanding that a Pennsylvania school cancel its planned field trip to the Creation Museum in Kentucky, claiming that such a trip is a violation of the U.S. Constitution.
The Wisconsin-based Freedom From Religion Foundation sent a letter to Big Beaver Falls Area School District denouncing the field trip, scheduled for May 20. Addressed to District Superintendent Donna Nugent and authored by Madeline Ziegler, the letter labeled the planned trip "unconstitutional" since the Museum "promotes the religious doctrine of creationism."
"Scheduling a trip to this type of sectarian establishment excludes non-Christian and non-religious students," wrote Ziegler to Nugent. "The fact that participation or attendance on this field trip is voluntary is not a valid safeguard, Courts have summarily rejected arguments that voluntariness excuses a constitutional violation."
In a statement released in conjunction with the letter, FFRF argued that the narrative that the Creation Museum advances would never be permitted in a public school.
"The religious content of the Creation Museum would not be permitted if taught directly at these schools, since the U.S. Supreme Court has struck down the teaching of 'scientific creationism' in public schools," stated the FFRF.
"And federal courts have consistently rejected creationism and its ilk in public schools. The organization of an educational trip to a venue propagating a creationist viewpoint therefore doesn't make sense."
Established by the Young-Earth Creationist group Answers in Genesis, the Creation Museum and a related project known as the Ark Encounter have been the subject of church-and-state controversies in the past.
In January, U.S. District Judge Gregory Van Tatenhove ruled that Kentucky's Tourism Cabinet cannot exclude the Ark Encounter from the tax incentive because of its "religious purpose and message."
Van Tatenhove explained in his decision that the tourism incentive "is neutral, has a secular purpose, and does not grant preferential treatment to anyone based on religion, allowing (Answers in Genesis) to participate along with the secular applicants cannot be viewed as acting with the predominant purpose of advancing religion."
Regarding the FFRF's complaint letter to Big Beaver, Answers in Genesis President Ken Ham said in a statement to the Christian News Network that as long as a public school presents the Creation Museum in a neutral manner, a field trip is perfectly constitutional.
"If public schools were bringing students here and their teachers were saying, 'THIS interpretation is the only truth that you should personally accept,' then that would be a violation of the Establishment Clause of the Constitution," stated Ham.
"However, if students come here in an objective fashion and teachers show them our first-class exhibits and present our group's interpretation of the origin of man, then the field trip is fine as an exceptional and voluntary educational/cultural experience."