City Cancels Trip to Hambo’s Ark

The website Inquisitr describes itself as “an internationally recognized news website read by more than 40 million unique visitors each month.” They have this headline: Ark Encounter: City Warned, Drops Trip PLans for Controversial Religious site. Here are some excerpts, with bold font added by us for emphasis:

The Ark Encounter theme park, a site that accompanies Ken Ham’s Creation Museum in using exhibits to promote a young-earth creationist worldview, has been under the eye of church-state separation watchdog group Freedom From Religion Foundation [FFRF] since before construction was completed. Concerns about the park, which depicts Noah’s Ark as Ham believes it might have been based in part on Biblical description, have included religious preference expressed in hiring, tax credits, and public school field trips.

Yes, Freedom From Religion Foundation has been a continuing problem for ol’ Hambo — see Ken Ham Offers $1 Admission for School Kids. Then we’re told:

Now it seems the Ark Encounter and Creation Museum will be denied visits of another kind: group visits organized by local government groups.

Really? Let’s read on:

The Christiansburg, Virginia Parks and Recreation Department had arranged a three-day trip to Kentucky, visiting the Creation Museum and Ark Encounter, along with an unnamed “mystery adventure.” … Aside from cost and deadlines (participants had until February 28 to sign up), the trip information includes a description of the Ark Encounter park as a way to “experience the pages of the Bible like never before.”

They’re talking about Christiansburg, Virginia. The news continues:

However, the Freedom From Religion Foundation heard of the Ark Encounter trip through a concerned resident of the city, and Staff Attorney Andrew Seidel contacted Christiansburg Parks and Recreation director, Brad Epperly. … The letter praised efforts to organize family-friendly entertainment but suggested that the Ark Encounter fell outside the realm of entertainment appropriate for government involvement.

What did the city do? We’re told:

The FFRF reports that legal counsel quickly responded on behalf of the city, assuring that the Ark Encounter trip had been canceled and would soon be removed from the city website.

Wow — that was quick. They provide this link to the city’s two sentence reply. One last excerpt from the Inquisitr:

[I]n this case, Ken Ham has as yet released no public comment about the Freedom From Religion Foundation’s request to the city of Christiansburg Virginia, or the decision by the city’s legal counsel to cancel the trip to the Creation Museum and Ark Encounter theme park.

We’re eagerly awaiting ol’ Hambo’s response.

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10 responses to “City Cancels Trip to Hambo’s Ark

  1. Seems like the city realized there is a difference between visiting a historical cathedral or monument (such as the National Cathedral or a California mission) and visiting a purely religious proselytizing facility such as Ham’s Ark Encounter.

    Good for them!

  2. Censorship! Persecution!

  3. I’d be careful about this. As Coyote says, there is a difference between Ham’s abomination and a Christian cathedral or a Hindu or Buddhist temple or Shinto shrine – but I think for the distinction to be soundly based, it needs to be defined. Does it consist of historicity? Beauty? Artistic merit? Cultural significance? All of those and more?

    The problem is that the distinction is subjective. The trustees of any religious building will certainly state that it is a place of worship or at least observance, first and foremost. Ham says that his edifice is made to bear witness to the literal truth of the Bible. Chartres Cathedral was and is built to glorify God. Those are both purely religious aims. What’s the difference?

    I submit that it’s a little more complex than you might think at first.

  4. DAve Luckett: I don’t think it’s that complex. If the location is still active as a religious establishment it’s off limits. I’ve seen many churches that are solely tourist attractions and no longer function as a religious establishment.
    Chartres Cathedral is out, Thornhill church is in.

  5. Derek Freyberg

    Paul S:
    I don’t think active religious establishments are necessarily off-limits. Many of the California missions are still active as churches, and yet I think they are appropriately studied and visited by California schoolchildren every year because they represent a part of California’s history. I don’t think Chartres Cathedral is off-limits either, as it’s perfectly possible to go there to see the work of medieval stonemasons and stained glass artisans – you can’t ignore why it was built, but you can separate admiration for the building and the skill of those who built it from its underlying religious purpose.
    And that’s the catch. I think the Ark Encounter and the Creation Museum are both travesties of religious buildings teaching arrant nonsense about science and history; Ken Ham sees them as a way to lead people to his God. I think you and I can probably agree (I don’t know about Ham) that the missions and Chartres Cathedral have a certain historical and artistic significance that Ham’s constructions lack. On that basis, I think they are appropriate for a visit regardless of their current religious significance, while Ham’s buildings are not as their sole purpose then and now is religious and the science and history that they teach is, shall we say, counter-factual. But if you’re putting together a school trip, how do you justify one and not the other?

  6. There is a difference between visiting a cathedral to admire the architecture (primarily a secular purpose) and visiting the Ark Encounter and Creation Museum (primarily a religious purpose).
    There was no need to cancel the trip, the trip could be sponsored/organized by one of the local churches in the area.

  7. Derek, I agree with your assessment. If you can visit the location without a religious purpose, then yes it can be advertised and arranged by a government agency. Ham’s world is a constant religious assault.

  8. Paul S, I agree that the distinction lies in the purpose of the visit, not in the site itself. And yet…

    I visited Chartres Cathedral (and Salisbury and York Minster and Ely and…) and I confess to finding a sort of divinity in them, hardened agnostic as I am. I went to appreciate the architecture, the masonry, the decoration, but still the sheer genius, artistry and artisanship produced in me an instinctive awe. They could do this, those people, and they thought it was worth doing. I could not do it; and who am I to say that they were wrong to put their lives to such a purpose?

    Thus, whatever the conscious intent of visiting a truly great religious building may be, I found that the building itself undermines secularity. This would argue that for me, a government-provided opportunity to visit would have religious significance. I could not avoid feeling awe. In fact, I wouldn’t even want to try to avoid it.

    Everything always turns out to be more complicated than one thinks.

  9. DL: the feelings that you describe as engendered by great cathedrals are often quoted by religious people as substantiating the reality of their god. In fact, this argument is pretty well backwards: the purveyors of religion construct awesome cathedrals (and commission great music and art) to impress in the absence of any objective evidence for their claims.

  10. Stephen Richards

    The local media confirms that the trip was cancelled, partly because too few people had signed up. Those who had signed up made alternate arrangements.