GLENDIVE — Third-graders in eastern Montana were unable to go on a field trip to a local creationist museum after an advocacy group called the event a violation of the constitutional separation of church and state.
Lincoln Elementary students were unable to visit the Glendive Dinosaur and Fossil Museum after a Washington, D.C.-based group, Americans United for Separation of Church and State, sent a letter claiming the event was illegal, the Billings Gazette reports.
The letter said that courts have “consistently and unequivocally held that religious views on the origins of life, such as creationism, ‘creation science,’ and ‘intelligent design,’ cannot lawfully be advanced by the public schools as alternatives to the scientific theory of evolution,”
The museum is the second largest dinosaur museum in the state and the only one to assert a literal, biblical view of world history in which humans and dinosaurs coexisted. A reconstruction of Noah’s Ark sits alongside full animal skeletons and fossils sit next to signs about God and the biblical flood.
“I don’t think there’s any way that children can enter that building without receiving the creationist message,” Alex Luchenitser, the advocacy group’s legal director, said of the Glendive museum.
The trip has been held for the past several years. Lincoln Elementary Principal John Larsen said the museum’s perspective was different than what kids are exposed to in school and noted that the tour given to students is an edited “secular” version of the typical tour and does not promote religious ideas.
“This presents an alternative idea to what kids are going to hear throughout the curriculum. I guess, personally, I’m OK with that,” Larsen said.
The museum’s founder and director, Otis E. Kline Jr., said the public school tours are modified to focus on material evidence, not religious teaching, but he does not yield in his belief that fossils and geologic records point to ideas such as the notion that all animal species appeared at once or that life is too complex to develop by chance.
“If evolution makes a claim and the claim is refuted by science, then I have no problem saying that, because that’s the truth,” Kline said. “We don’t make things up here.”
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