FFRF warns Dieterich CUSD #30 (Illinois) about Ark Encounter outing

Ark Encounter Dedrick

The Freedom From Religion Foundation is warning an Illinois school district that its recent outing to a Christian theme park flagrantly flouts basic scientific principles.

Dieterich CUSD #30 in Dieterich, Illinois, took students on a senior trip to the Ark Encounter in Kentucky on Tuesday, April 16, and it promoted this religious excursion on its website and social media pages.

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 proselytizing nature of both attractions since their inception. In his June 27, 2016, letter entitled, “Our Real Motive for Building Ark Encounter,” he lays out an openly 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 biblical verses to further illuminate his motive before finally stating it plainly:

Our motive is to do the King’s business until He comes. . . . 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!

The Ark Encounter, an entity with the self-stated purpose of “preaching the gospel and defending the faith,” is simply not an appropriate destination for a public school field trip, FFRF stresses to the school district.

Given the Ark Encounter’s overt and unambiguous Christian agenda, a district-sponsored trip there illegally endorses a religious message in violation of the Constitution. And sending students to a such a proselytizing Christian site ostracizes those students and families who identify as nonreligious or practice a minority religion.

“It is well settled that public schools may not advance or promote religion,” FFRF Legal Fellow Chris Line writes to Superintendent Cary Jackson. “In Lee v. Weisman, the Supreme Court extended the prohibition of school sponsored religious activities beyond the classroom to all school functions, holding prayers at public high school graduations an impermissible establishment of religion. As a school-sponsored event, a school field trip cannot include any endorsement of religion.”

It makes no difference whether or not this field trip was mandatory, FFRF informs the school district. The U.S. Supreme Court has held that voluntariness does not remedy an Establishment Clause violation.

FFRF has told the school district that it must discontinue trips to the Ark Encounter and select more appropriate locations for future field trips.

“The Ark Encounter is a blatantly propagandistic park that preaches a doctrine contrary to science and common sense,” says FFRF Co-President Annie Laurie Gaylor. “There cannot be a less appropriate school outing destination. The purpose of our schools is to educate, not miseducate.”

The Freedom From Religion Foundation is a national nonprofit organization with more than 31,000 members and chapters across the country, including more than 1,000 members and a chapter in Illinois. Its purposes are to protect the constitutional principle of separation between state and church, and to educate the public on matters relating to nontheism.

Photo has been blurred to protect the students privacy.

The Freedom From Religion Foundation, based in Madison, Wis., a 501(c)(3) nonprofit educational charity, is the nation's largest association of freethinkers (atheists, agnostics), and has been working since 1978 to keep religion and government separate.

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