WILLIAMSTOWN, Ky. – Typically the atheist Freedom From Religion Foundation (FFRF) tries to bully one American school at a time.
The FFRF has sent a letter to every public school district in Kentucky, Tennessee, Indiana, West Virginia and Ohio, warning that any school-sponsored student trips to the Ark Encounter, a new Kentucky theme park based on a huge replica of Noah’s Ark, would “violate the Constitution and the First Amendment” according to the Christian Examiner.
The implication behind such messages is that schools will risk lawsuits if they defy the demands of the FFRF. Hundreds of school districts around the nation have already bent to the wishes of the radical group.
Many school officials are fearful of the legal costs they would encounter if they were sued by the FFRF. Even if they won, the tab for defending themselves in such cases were almost certainly be six figures.
In the letter to schools, the FFRF referred to Ken Ham, founder of Answers in Genesis, the organization that owns the theme park, according to the Christian Examiner:
“In this country, Ham is free to erect monuments to his bible, but public schools are not permitted to expose the children in their charge to religious myths and proselytizing,” the letter said.
The report did not say if FFRF offered to prove that the historic existence of Noah’s Ark is a “religious myth,” or explain why thousands of students should be prohibited from studying Christianity, a religion that has had a huge influence on the development of western and American culture.
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In response, Ham offered to allow school children into the park for $1 and teachers for free, according to Kentucky.com. The regular admission price is $40 for adults and $28 for children.
Ham also issued a statement urging schools and citizens to “stand up to the FFRF!”
“On the basis of the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, public schools are absolutely free to take students on field trips (with appropriate parental permissions) to facilities like the Ark Encounter and Creation Museum, provided they are for historical, recreational, or educational purposes. FFRF has no right (and no legal basis whatsoever) to intimidate government-run schools as they are trying to do in this letter sent to more than 1,000 schools.
“Really, public school students could benefit from a visit to Ark Encounter for educational purposes. School officials are not asked to endorse as truth everything they see, and they don’t. (Just as they don’t endorse as truth the content of every class video, stage production, and cultural experience in other field trips.) The Ark is merely an awesome opportunity to give kids exposure to one point of view in a very vivid way. That is in no way unlawful, and no court has ever said it is.
“Americans, I urge you to stand up to the FFRF! We need to let them know we are not going to be bullied into going against our First Amendment rights.”
Ham quoted an opinion offered by the Center for Religious Expression
“Once again, FFRF is wrong. Public schools are free to take students on field trips to any place they find educationally beneficial, which can include parks, museums, and even churches, that have religious connotations. The Constitution demands the state be neutral – not hostile – toward religion. To deny students the unique opportunity to see and experience a full-scale model of Noah’s Ark – just because its existence is described in the Bible – would be decidedly hostile.”
Kentucky.com reported that “Kentucky Education Commissioner Stephen Pruitt responded by sending a letter to school districts in his state saying that outside groups should not influence decisions …”
Donald Ruberg, an attorney representing Grant Public Schools in Kentucky, also disagreed with the FFRF position, saying school carpentry, religion or architectural classes could benefit from visiting the park and viewing the Ark exhibit.
“I think they are grossly overstating their case,” Ruberg was quoted as saying by the Christian Examiner. “That’s not a correct interpretation of the law, in my opinion.”