Today, July 7, sees the official opening of creationist Ken Ham’s wacky Ark Encounter in Williamsburg, Kentucky – and a protest by a group called the Tri-State Freethinkers, which is raising funds for the billboard pictured above.
The group said on its website:
Join us to protest the grand opening of the Ark Encounter! Their mission is anti-science, the Noah’s Ark story is immoral, and they maintain discriminatory hiring practices while receiving up to $18 M in state tax incentives. We are making a stand for science, equal rights and the separation of church and state. Join us at the protest to show your support!
Ark Encounter employees, according to Ham’s hiring guidelines, must oppose abortion, euthanasia, gay rights, and trans rights.
Among those who will be present at the opening are David Silverman, President of American Atheists and Dan Barker, Co-President of the Freedom from Religion Foundation, which is advising public schools in more than 1,000 school districts against visiting the religious theme park.
According to FFRF’s website:
The Ark Encounter is a Christian ministry run by the creationist Ken Ham, who also built the notorious Creation Museum. Ham has been clear about the proselytising nature of this park from the beginning. In a recent letter entitled, ‘Our Real Motive for Building Ark Encounter,’ he states it plainly: ‘Our motive is to do the King’s business until He comes. And that means preaching the gospel and defending the faith, so that we can reach as many souls as we can.’
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.
Ham is free to erect monuments to the Bible, but public schools are not permitted to expose the children in their charge to religious myths and proselytising. So, public schools cannot organise trips for students to either the Creation Museum or the Ark Park. Doing so would violate the students’ rights of conscience and the US Constitution.
FFRF Co-Presidents Dan Barker and Annie Laurie Gaylor said in the memo:
Public schools may not advance or promote religion. The obligation to remain neutral on religion includes not teaching creationism, intelligent design, or any of their creatively named religious offspring to public school students. Taking public school students to a site whose self-professed goal is to convert children to a particular religion and undermine what is taught in public school science and history classrooms would be inappropriate.
And that any such field trip might be deemed ‘voluntary’ (ie, students may opt out of the trip) is irrelevant.
Courts have summarily rejected arguments that voluntariness excuses a constitutional violation.
FFRF is also enclosing with the memo its “Top 10” brochure, which explains the most common state-church violations in public schools and why schools must avoid them. In the past two years, FFRF has addressed more than 1,300 violations in public schools and offers this constitutional guide with the hope to see fewer violations in coming years.