A Kentucky elementary school has a strange concept of what constitutes a reward given that it took a group of students to Ken Ham’s Creation Museum in 2012 as a prize for having “perfect” attendance.

“Perfect” belongs in quotes, here, because Lee County Elementary in Petersburg, Ky., has a rather flexible definition of perfection: students could miss one day of school and still qualify for flawless attendance. (Who knew perfection was open to interpretation?)

It seems the school also has a rather unusual idea of what constitutes a good education, given that it took students to the Creation Museum, which is located in Petersburg. Some reward that turned out to be.

In case you’re unfamiliar with it, the Creation Museum is run by Answers in Genesis (AiG), a fundamentalist Christian ministry that believes the earth is just 6,000 years old, that the Bible is literally true and that humans and dinosaurs once coexisted. The “museum” also features a relatively new zip line attraction, presumably to bolster the “museum’s” flagging attendance.  

In case you think that all sounds harmless, here’s why it’s not: The Creation Museum is run by the same people who are building Ark Encounter, a theme park that will feature a large replica of Noah’s Ark and will cost Kentucky taxpayers millions of dollars in lost sales tax rebates once the park opens.

As for AiG, it makes no secret of its mission. It says on its website that it “is an apologetics (i.e., Christianity-defending) ministry, dedicated to enabling Christians to defend their faith and to proclaim the gospel of Jesus Christ effectively.” It also says: “AiG teaches that ‘facts’ don’t speak for themselves, but must be interpreted. That is, there aren’t separate sets of ‘evidences’ for evolution and creation—we all deal with the same evidence…. The difference lies in how we interpret what we study. The Bible—the ‘history book of the universe’—provides a reliable, eye-witness account of the beginning of all things, and can be trusted to tell the truth in all areas it touches on.”

Clearly, those are all religious concepts. And kids have a right to learn about them – on their own time or in Sunday school. Such ideas are not appropriate for an official public school field trip, even if that trip was only offered to a handful of students. Instead, kids should be learning sound science – not religious dogma.

Lee County’s website makes it appear that parents paid for the children to attend the “museum,” but it’s unclear whether or not taxpayer dollars were used for this religious fieldtrip.

Either way, Lee County Elementary was wrong to shuttle any of its students to a “museum” that is nothing more than a place for a certain brand of Christian proselytizing. The First Amendment does not allow for this sort of thing.

Last year Americans United attorneys put a stop to a plan by public school officials in Glendive, Mont., to take third graders to a similar creationist attraction. We probably could have done the same here, but this incident from four years ago just came to light; we didn't know about it at the time. (h/t to the Friendly Atheist Blog for reporting on this.)

On its website, Lee County Elementary says “good attendance is a necessary part of good education!!” That is undoubtedly true. But it’s not the only component, and students must learn sound science – even at a young age – if they want to be grow up to be well-educated adults.

If a trip to the Creation Museum, which undermines real science, is a reward for good behavior in Lee County I’d hate to see what constitutes a punishment there.