An Illinois township has been asked by the Freedom From Religion Foundation to stop officially sponsoring religious excursions to creationist museums and “Jesus” performances, among others.
A concerned local resident contacted FFRF to report that Frankfort Township recently sponsored a religiously themed trip that included visits to the Ark Encounter and Creation Museum in the neighboring state of Kentucky.
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 this park and the Creation Museum 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.”
The Frankfort Township Board is sponsoring another upcoming religious outing, this time in June to Lancaster County, Pa., to see a performance of “Jesus” at the Millennium Theatre, which describes itself as “Where the Bible Comes to Life on Stage.” The Christian Theater group’s stated purpose is “to present the Gospel of Jesus Christ and sow the Word of God into the lives of customers.”
The Frankfort Township’s sponsoring of regular Christian-themed trips demonstrates its endorsement of Christianity, FFRF asserts.
“It is a fundamental principle of Establishment Clause jurisprudence that the government cannot in any way promote, advance or otherwise endorse religion,” FFRF Staff Attorney Ryan Jayne writes to Township Supervisor Jim Moustis. “Advertising and organizing such events sends the message that the township supports residents being evangelized.”
As well as being unconstitutional, such an official endorsement excludes the township’s non-Christian residents, who are being told that they are not part of the township’s favored religious group, FFRF emphasizes. This message certainly alienates residents who choose not to participate in religious activities, especially the 23 percent of the American population that is nonreligious.
Frankfort Township must refrain from organizing religious events, and, specifically, the June religious trip to Lancaster County should be cancelled, FFRF is asking. Furthermore, the state/church watchdog is requesting assurances that the township not sponsor any future jaunts to the Ark Encounter or Creation Museum.
“By arranging official trips, Frankfort Township is subsidizing religious, unscientific boondoggles such as the Creation Museum,” says FFRF Co-President Annie Laurie Gaylor. “Governmental approval cannot be accorded to such creationist stories as the museum or the Lancaster County play.”
FFRF is a national nonprofit organization with more than 31,000 members and several chapters across the country, including more than 900 members in Illinois and a chapter in the state. FFRF’s purposes are to protect the constitutional principle of separation between state and church, and to educate the public on matters relating to nontheism.