The Charleston Parks and Recreation Department is hosting a five-day trip featuring visits to the Ark Encounter and the Creation Museum from Sept. 30–Oct. 4, 2019. A flier for the event states that the $575 charge for the trip includes “Admission to the New, Stunning — ARK ENCOUNTER!” and “Admission to the Famous CREATION MUSEUM.”
Both attractions have an explicitly religious mission. The Ark Encounter, recently constructed in Kentucky, is a Christian ministry run by the creationist Ken Ham, who also built the Creationist Museum in Kentucky. 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 evangelical goal:
“The [Creation] Museum and Ark direct people to the Word of God and the gospel of Jesus Christ. . . . 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 . . . .”
It is unconstitutional for the city of Charleston to endorse the religious mission of these attractions by organizing, sponsoring or funding a trip to the Ark Encounter or the Creation Museum, FFRF reminds the city.
“While organizing and encouraging citizens to attend recreational events is a laudable goal, advertising and organizing a trip to a Christian museum and theme park alienates those Charleston residents who are not Christian, including the 23 percent of the American population who are nonreligious,” writes FFRF Staff Attorney Ryan Jayne in his letter to City Attorney Rachael Cunningham. “Surely there are appropriate secular activities, in addition to the planned trip to the Cincinnati Zoo and Botanical Gardens, that would not attempt to convert attendees to a particular religion.”
FFRF is asking that the Charleston Parks and Recreation Department refrain from organizing religious events.
“It is completely inappropriate for the city to sponsor a trip to a religious attraction,” says FFRF Co-President Dan Barker. “The Parks and Recreation Department ought to plan events that are inclusive of all the city’s residents, including those who practice a minority religion or no religion at all.”
The Freedom From Religion Foundation is a national nonprofit organization with 32,000 members and several chapters across the country, including over 900 members in Illinois and a chapter in Chicago. FFRF’s purposes are to protect the constitutional principle of separation between church and state, and to educate the public on matters relating to nontheism.