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Creation Museum researcher alleges religious discrimination in Grand Canyon

The Grand Canyon National Park denied a permit to Kentucky geologist Andrew Snelling after he asked to study rock samples from there. Snelling sues, alleging religious discrimination.
The Grand Canyon National Park denied a permit to Kentucky geologist Andrew Snelling after he asked to study rock samples from there. Snelling sues, alleging religious discrimination. AP

A geologist affiliated with the Creation Museum and Ark Encounter amusement park in Kentucky has sued the Grand Canyon National Park after it denied him a permit to test rocks that he believes are less than 10,000 years old.

Andrew Snelling, the research director for Answers in Genesis, the parent company of both tourist attractions in Northern Kentucky, filed a civil rights and religious discrimination complaint on May 9 in U.S. District Court in Arizona with the help of Alliance Defending Freedom, a Christian nonprofit that works on religious freedom issues. Answers in Genesis promulgates “Young Earth Creationism,” which is the belief that the world was literally created by God in six days less than 10,000 years ago.

The lawsuit, which names the U.S. Department of the Interior and Grand Canyon authorities, contends that Snelling requested permission in 2013 to study the “folding Paleozoic sedimentary structures at four locations within the Grand Canyon ... seeking to collect a maximum of 60 one-half-pound samples of rock from these unique folds.”

Snelling said he’d already done research projects in the park, and he has worked for Canyon Ministries, which conducts rafting tours in the Grand Canyon with a Biblical perspective.

Like Answers in Genesis creator Ken Ham, Snelling is a native of Australia. He has a doctorate from the University of Sydney, according to the lawsuit. He works in the United States with a green card that expires in 2024.

The park sent Snelling’s proposal to reviewers, who apparently persuaded park officials to turn down his request. One reviewer, according to the Phoenix New Times, was Karl Karlstrom of the University of New Mexico, who has hypothesized that the Grand Canyon is indeed younger than previously thought — only 6 million years old, rather than 60 million.

“Dr. Karlstrom’s responses briefly addressed a few scientific issues while demonstrating antipathy for Dr. Snelling’s religious faith and the religious views of the scientists who provided peer reviews on behalf of Dr. Snelling,” the complaint says.

In 2016, the park issued Snelling a permit to take pictures of the proposed sampling sites from the river, but not to collect rock samples.

“Defendants’ activities are motivated by hostility towards Dr. Snelling’s viewpoints and sincerely held religious beliefs,” the complain states. “Defendants’ policies and practices have burdened Dr. Snelling’s free exercise of his religion absent any compelling state interest.”

The complaint also cites President Donald Trump’s May 4 executive order on religious freedom, which upholds the right to exercise religion without undue interference from the federal government.

Park authorities have not commented on the lawsuit. Snelling has questioned the practice of radioactive dating of rocks, and he helped formulate exhibits at the Creation Museum and Ark Encounter that show humans coexisting with relatively small and friendly dinosaurs that Ark Encounter officials say were among the species saved on the ark during a flood described in the Old Testament of the Bible.

Linda Blackford: 859-231-1359, @lbblackford

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