Public schools are visiting Ken Ham’s Creation Museum.

Public Schools Are Visiting the Creation Museum on Field Trips. That’s Not Constitutional.

Public Schools Are Visiting the Creation Museum on Field Trips. That’s Not Constitutional.

The law, lawyers, and the court.
April 25 2016 8:40 AM

A Day With Ken Ham

The Creation Museum is open to public school field trips, and the museum’s founder has some thoughts on separation of church and state.

The Creation Museum in Petersburg, Kentucky.
Artist Laura Spence paints next to a mechanical Utahraptor on May 16, 2007, at the Creation Museum in Petersburg, Kentucky.

Jeff Haynes/Getty Images

Ken Ham, the Ayatollah of Appalachia and founder of Kentucky’s Creation Museum, is at the pulpit of Covington’s First Baptist Church in Louisiana. He’s railing that young people are “taught not to think” by “secular museums” and schools. Behind Ham, there’s a blown-glass picture of Jesus wreathed in flames.

It’s late March. “If you believe in [the Earth being] millions of years [old] as a Christian,” Ham says, “you believe God says cancer and brain tumors are good.” A man with a thin mustache, sitting next to me, yells “Amen!” (Good Christians—those who presumably view cancer as a bad thing—are supposed to believe that the Earth is a few thousand years old, according to Ham.) 

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This was the opening session for one of Ham’s Vision conferences, events organized to teach the “scientific” foundations of creationism. This particular gathering includes student breakout sessions for younger Ham fans, like Dinosaurs for Kids (listed as being for students in grades kindergarten through sixth) and Science Confirms the Bible (Grades 7–12). Ham has built a small financial empire out of his $27 million replica Noah’s Ark theme park and the miseducation of children.

Titled Genesis and the State of the Culture, this first session laid out the future as Ham sees it, which, in one word, is apocalyptic. Ham had projected a PowerPoint slide on the wall that had a tower built from blocks with the words evolution, abortion, and euthanasia on them standing tall next to the crumbled ruins of words like Bible, morality, and the traditional family. Speaking to 300 people in the church sanctuary, Ham credited evolution education with everything from transgender rights and the end of traditional marriage to the idea that humans are animals. The audience was finishing Ham’s sentences, shouting words like blood and ark back at him. According to Ham, Christians can’t accept evolution because the book of Genesis says man was made in the image of God. “If God used evolution, God came from an ape,” he said. 

If someone wanted to learn more about how evolution teaches children that humans are immoral apes, she could buy Ham’s book, The Lie: Evolution, for $13 outside of the chapel. Many here did want to know more—the crowd flooded out to buy textbooks from a row of tables that stretched around the entire lobby (a few hundred feet of curriculum materials). 

“We don’t get involved in politics,” Ham told me when I asked him about his education initiatives. Despite preaching against secular museums and schools, he said, “We’ve never tried to get creation taught in school.” But, on Facebook, Ham has defended the principle of teaching public school children creationism and his museum has hosted visits by public schools in the past. In 2012, Yahoo News pointed out that the Supreme Court had ruled that teaching creationism was unconstitutional, and therefore it’s a constitutional violation for public schools to take field trips to his museum. “There is no such thing as ‘separation of church and state,’ ” he wrote in response. “Reporters continue to promote this fallacy and scare Christians out of standing up for their beliefs.” 

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Unconstitutionality aside, the Creation Museum attracts a steady stream of public schools that take their students on field trips to the museum. Brookville High School, a public school in Ohio, recently announced on their website, “Any student interested in going to the Creation Museum on April 30th, see Pete in the shop!” Jackson Independent School District, in Kentucky, has pictures on its website that say, “A Historical Field Trip. Mr. Couch’s 7th grade history class visited the Creation Museum.” Beaver Falls Area School District, in Pennsylvania, approved a teacher’s request to take students on a field trip to the museum. Dan Phelps, the president of the Kentucky Paleontological Society, discovered that Southside Elementary, in Lee County, Kentucky, was taking students to the museum as a reward for perfect attendance, as recently as 2012. (Ham has asked for his followers to “pray that the light of God’s eternal truth will shine on Dan Phelps’ heart.”)

If a field trip isn’t enough creationism for public schools, they can take part in the Creation Museum’s Science Fair. “It’s open to homeschoolers, Christian school students, and public school students,” the Creation Museum’s website says. “As long as you agree with AiG’s Statement of Faith and will conduct a quality experiment, you can apply.”

”Science is fun!”

I asked Ham if he was aware of the public schools visiting the museum, but he told me the museum didn’t keep track of the groups that came. “A lot of those groups that come, I wouldn't even know who they are,” he told me.

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But, again, the museum’s private messaging is a little different from what Ham says in public. I emailed the reservations department at the Creation Museum and asked if the museum had an educational rate for public schools. Cara, a creation museum staffer, told me that school groups get an “educational group rate” and only pay $12.95 per adult ticket (chaperones and students older than 13 years old) as long as the group includes 15 people. Also, “once the requirement of 15 tickets purchased has been reached, we will provide one complimentary chaperone general admission (not including planetarium) ticket for every 10 students,” she said. There are also complimentary tickets and food vouchers for the bus driver.

At Ham’s Vision conferences, he’s free to teach children that T. rex was a vegetarian that lived with Adam and Eve. No matter how ludicrous it is, that’s a legitimate exercise of religious freedom. These creationist field trips, however, are not. No matter how steep the discount, public schools can’t afford to miseducate our kids with religious pseudoscience like creationism.

Zack Kopplin is a science education activist who has fought against creationism being taught with public money.