The Freedom From Religion Foundation is warning a government-funded Kentucky senior center against going ahead with an outing to an infamously unscientific Christian theme park.
The Lexington Senior Center is advertising and promoting a day trip to the Ark Encounter on July 12. The Ark Encounter, recently constructed in Kentucky, is a Christian ministry run by the creationist Ken Ham, who also built the notorious Creation Museum. Ham has been clear about the proselytizing nature of this park from the beginning. In his June 27, 2016, letter entitled, "Our Real Motive for Building Ark Encounter," he lays out a clear, evangelistic goal:
We are eagerly approaching what I believe will be a historic moment in Christendom. It's the opening of one of the greatest Christian outreaches of our era: the life-size Noah's Ark in Northern Kentucky. . . . The [Creation] Museum and Ark direct people to the Word of God and the gospel of Jesus Christ.
Ham quotes bible verses to further illuminate his motive before finally stating 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 . . . millions of souls will hear the most important message of all . . . a message of hope from the holy, righteous Judge who, despite our sin, wants us to spend eternity with Him!"
Ham's explicit declaration of his theme park's purpose makes it constitutionally impermissible for a government-funded institution to organize an excursion there.
"It is a fundamental principle of Establishment Clause jurisprudence that the government cannot in any way promote, advance, or otherwise endorse religion," FFRF's Patrick O'Reiley Legal Fellow Chris Line reminds Lexington Senior Center Program Manager Sean Wright. "Advertising and organizing such an event sends the message that residents are expected to support such religious events."
Such an endeavor also alienates those Lexington residents who are not Christian and who are nonreligious. Approximately one-fourth of the American population is nonreligious, and roughly 30 percent count themselves as non-Christian.
There are legal hindrances to such a trip, too. The Lexington Senior Center reportedly receives at least some of its budget from federal, state and county funds. Federal regulations prohibit senior centers receiving federal funding to engage in religious activities at government-sponsored functions. Additionally, the regulations clearly proscribe any discrimination on the basis of religious belief.
Visiting a religious ministry is an inherently religious activity. Therefore, advertising, promoting, endorsing or encouraging attendance for this kind of religious event places the agency in direct violation of the federal mandate.
"The brand of religious 'information' at the Ark Park is completely bogus and driven by missionary zeal," says FFRF Co-President Annie Laurie Gaylor. "A government-funded entity cannot be subsidizing and encouraging such absurdity."
FFRF is asking the Lexington Senior Center to cancel the July 12 trip and provide an assurance that it will no longer schedule, advertise or promote excursions to religious sites.
The Freedom From Religion Foundation is a national nonprofit organization with more than 29,000 members and chapters across the country, including members and a chapter in Kentucky. Its purpose is to protect the constitutional principle of separation between state and church, and to educate the public on matters relating to nontheism.