According to a recent article in The Secular Spectrum, Ken Ham has his eye on the Supreme Court, and well he might, considering that the Court now includes at least three extremely reactionary Justices. As Dan Phelps reported in the Lexington Herald-Leader in October, the story begins, more or less, when a Kentucky community college took a number of middle- and high-school students on a field trip to Mr. Ham’s Creation “Museum.” Mark Alsip outlines the story well in The Secular Spectrum and notes that the Freedom from Religion Foundation responded by sending a memo to school districts in several states, warning that such field trips may be unconstitutional. Mr. Ham in return offered free admission to any school group that organized a visit to the “Museum” and essentially promised
... access to expert constitutional law attorneys who will provide their services to the school, pro bono, even if that means going all the way to the US Supreme Court.
According to Mr. Phelps, at least one school principal tweeted that he would “listen to” any proposal for a field trip to the “Museum.” I hope that he understands how expensive that proposal could become.
Now, I am not a lawyer, but to paraphrase Mr. Justice Potter Stewart, I know a religious institution when I see one. And it seems to me that those who liken a field trip to the Creation “Museum” or the Ark Park to a visit to a real museum do not recognize it (or pretend to not recognize it) as a religious institution. That is, as someone hinted in a comment to Mr. Alsip’s article, a field trip to the Muhammad Ali Center in Louisville would be acceptable, even if it had a display explaining the history or religion of Islam, because that museum has an overall secular purpose. The Ark Park does not have a secular purpose; its intention is to proselytize. In Mr. Ham’s own words,
We want people to come and have an encounter with Noah’s Ark and related attractions, and in so doing, have an encounter with God’s Word. As a result, they will have an encounter with the Lord Jesus Christ.
Presumably, the same is true of the Creation “Museum.” Thus, taking children to the Creation “Museum” is more like asking them to participate in a religious service than like taking them to a proper museum.
Mr. Phelps and his camera are a wealth of information. He visited the Ark Park when it opened and reported on it here and here. He has generously provided us with photographic evidence of the religious nature of the Park.
First, let us make clear that if the Ark Park or the Creation “Museum” were devoted merely to pseudoscience such as this:
then a field trip there would be merely stupid, not unconstitutional. As to the religious nature of the displays, consider this:
which follows something called “Noah’s Prayer.” Importantly, neither of these plaques appears to be instructive, in the sense that they do not say something like, “These are examples of prayers that evangelical Christians might say in [some circumstance or another].” Finally, Mr. Phelps sent us photographs of what appears to be a poster-sized comic book which begins like this:
You can guess where it’s going, can’t you? First, they show that they know what scientists (whether religious or not) understand about the Bible:
Then they go through a little theodicy, blaming us for all the evil and even misfortune in the world:
To sum up, the Ark Park is not a museum; it is a religious institution designed to promulgate a certain version of evangelical Christianity. It is improper to take public school students there on field trips.
Acknowledgement. Thanks to Dan Phelps for his photographs, and especially for his diligent reporting.