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Supreme Court of the United States

Grand Canyon National Park Continues History of Hostility toward Religion

By Sarah Kramer posted on:
October 17, 2017

Just weeks after the “March for Science” took the streets of Washington, D.C. to advocate for “including voices and contributions from people of all identities and backgrounds” in the scientific community, one scientist is being barred from conducting research because of his Christian identity.

And even though President Donald Trump signed an executive order just days ago directing executive agencies to not discriminate against religious individuals and organizations, Alliance Defending Freedom is committed to ensuring that instances of religious discrimination at the government’s hand do not continue.

That’s why ADF Allied Attorney Michael Kitchen filed a lawsuit today against the Grand Canyon National Park (GCNP) for its denial of a research and sample collection permit simply because the applicant holds a Christian worldview.

The trouble began in 2013 when scientist Dr. Andrew Snelling requested a permit to travel into the Grand Canyon and collect rock samples for research. He followed the proper procedure, submitting an application and three peer reviews, which all highly ranked the research proposal.

Park officials subsequently obtained additional peer reviews of Dr. Snelling’s research proposal. But giving little regard to the substance of Dr. Snelling’s proposal, the outside reviewers instead spent more time discussing his religious beliefs. One reviewer cited Dr. Snelling’s affiliation with a “Creation ministry” and attacked his scientific credentials. Another stated that Dr. Snellings interests are “inappropriate” and that the research should not be allowed because “ours is a secular society as per our constitution.”

As long as we’re talking about credentials, perhaps these reviewers should stick to science rather than constitutional law. The Constitution does not permit the government to treat Christians as second-class citizens.

But park officials still denied Dr. Snelling’s proposal.

Dr. Snelling reapplied in February 2016, answering directly the few legitimate questions raised by the reviewers. This time, the Park Service granted him a permit, with just one small problem: Park officials did not authorize him to collect any samples.

Instead, they have required him first to take a scouting trip through the Grand Canyon to gather the exact GPS coordinates and photos of each of the locations from where he would take the samples, delaying the research trip and increasing the cost of the research. No other researcher has had to go to such lengths to obtain a few fist-sized rocks for scientific research. In fact, one of the outside reviewers obtained a permit for far more intensive sampling without having to make a preliminary site-locating trip.

This appears to be a clear case of viewpoint discrimination. And sadly, this is not the first time GCNP officials have shown hostility toward religion.

  • In 2003, in response to a single emailed complaint by a distant ACLU employee, park officials abruptly removed three plaques from the park that displayed Scripture verses.
  • In 2007, a park official was caught colluding with outside interest groups to manufacture a complaint about the book The Grand Canyon: A Different View, which was then being sold in private bookstores within the National Park – simply because the book is written from a Christian perspective.
  • And in 2011, the plaque issue resurfaced once again when a leftist advocacy group tried again to have the Scripture references removed from the park.

Thankfully, each of these issues was resolved with informal legal intervention.

Unfortunately, an ADF letter asking park officials to grant Dr. Snelling’s research proposal went unanswered. That’s why ADF allies and attorneys must take formal legal action. This pattern of religious hostility cannot continue. 


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Sarah Kramer

Sarah Kramer

Digital Content Specialist

Sarah worked as an investigative reporter before joining the Alliance Defending Freedom team.

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