You might have read yesterday about Americans United’s latest victory. It’s one I’m especially pleased to see: Officials at a public school in Glendive, Mont., were going to send third-graders on a field trip to a local spot run by creationists. AU’s attorneys put a stop to that.
The facility in question is called the Glendive Dinosaur and Fossil Museum, but I have too much respect for real museums to use that term for it. In this post, I will refer to it as the “Creationism Indoctrination Center” (CIC).
The CIC is run by an entity called the Foundation Advancing Creation Truth. On its website, one reads the following: “The mission of the Foundation Advancing Creation Truth (FACT) and its related ministries is to glorify God as Creator and Sustainer, emphasize man’s accountability to Him, to affirm God’s revealed and inspired Word as the preeminent source of truth and authority, and to challenge mankind to think through the assumptions and consequences of the humanistic concept of evolution and its underlying premise that the earth is billions of years old.”
Also check out “What We Believe,” which is essentially the CIC’s statement of faith. It’s all here: six-day creation, the Book of Genesis is literally true, there was a worldwide flood, etc. See, that’s how you know you’re not dealing with a real science museum here. Real science museums don’t have statements of faith.
It took me about four seconds to find this material on the CIC’s website; the evangelists who run it aren’t hiding anything. The CIC’s fundamentalist mission could not be clearer. Yet, remarkably, officials at a public school thought it would be just peachy to send third-graders from Lincoln Elementary School to this place. School officials admitted that they have been sponsoring field trips to the CIC for the past several years.
The school principal, John Larsen, told the Billings Gazette that the kids are given an edited, “secular” version of the standard tour that doesn’t contain references to religion. But the museum’s director admitted to the Gazette that even during his so-called “secular” tours he presents creationist teachings, such as that all animal species appeared at once, and dives directly into the religious foundations for those teachings in response to student questions.
Larsen also said that the facility offers “a different point of view than kids are exposed to in school.” (A different point of view? Yep. It’s called “pseudo-science.”)
Let’s cut through the nonsense here. There is no “secular” version of this place. As Alex J. Luchenitser, AU’s associate legal director, told the Gazette, “I don’t think there’s any way that children can enter that building without receiving the creationist message.”
That’s right. And guess what, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in 1987 – 28 years ago – that public schools may not teach biblical creationism because it is religion, not science.
Some people are not happy about the turn of events in Glendive. And I’m sure some of the kids were disappointed that the field trip was cancelled. After all, it’s fun to get a day away from the classroom.
Their parents need to be taking the long view. Believe me, these kids will be more disappointed years from now if entire careers are closed off to them because they were taught to disbelieve fundamental elements of modern biology as youngsters. But if parents insist on exposing their children to creationism, they are free to take their children to the CIC themselves.
The tragedy of this event is that Glendive is located in an area that is rich in dinosaur fossils. Real scientists often collect specimens there. Montana has plenty of secular universities where biologists and paleontologists work. With a little planning, Lincoln Elementary could have brought in a professional to talk to the kids about actual science or planned a trip to a real museum.
The school needs a new plan, because what it had been doing – packing kids off to a Creationist Indoctrination Center – was clearly unconstitutional. It was also, I would submit, a serious form of educational malpractice.