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National Park Service agrees to stop discriminating against Christian geologist

ADF represents scientist who was intentionally prevented from conducting research in Grand Canyon because of his beliefs
Dr. Andrew Snelling at the Grand Canyon. (Courtesy of Answers in Genesis)
Dr. Andrew Snelling at the Grand Canyon. (Courtesy of Answers in Genesis)

PHOENIX – An experienced geologist’s lawsuit has prompted federal officials to grant him a long-awaited research permit after they originally denied his application because of his Christian beliefs about the origins of the Earth. In light of the turnaround, an Alliance Defending Freedom allied attorney together with ADF attorneys who represent the geologist, Dr. Andrew Snelling, voluntarily dismissed Snelling v. United States Department of Interior in federal court Wednesday.

Snelling, who holds a Ph.D. in Geology from the University of Sydney, has conducted geological research in Australia and the United States, published works in peer-reviewed journals, and has decades of field and laboratory experience with both theoretical and practical geological research. Nonetheless, National Park Service officials had denied his routine request to obtain a few fist-sized rock samples from the Grand Canyon based upon his Christian views about the Earth’s beginnings. Even though Snelling had conducted prior research in the canyon, Park Service officials ran him through a gamut of red tape for more than three years.

“When the government refuses to allow a Christian geologist simply to collect information because it dislikes his views, it undercuts science and violates the law,” said ADF Senior Counsel Gary McCaleb, co-counsel for Snelling. “We commend Park Service officials, Interior Secretary Zinke, and the Trump administration for understanding that specifically targeting Dr. Snelling’s faith as the reason to stop his research was both inappropriate and unconstitutional. As the Park Service finally admitted, ‘Dr. Snelling’s proposal is well stated with methods that are similar or equal to standard scientific practice to test the hypothesis provided,’ so it is the right choice to let the research go forward.”

“This settlement benefits everyone, in that it sends the message that the government will not interfere with basic scientific inquiry,” said Michael Kitchen, lead counsel for Snelling and one of nearly 3,200 attorneys allied with ADF. “Scientists must be allowed to pursue their research, put theories to the test, and reach independent conclusions without the federal government blocking access to data based on a researcher’s religious faith.”

Geological researchers routinely gain access to the Grand Canyon by specifying what samples they seek and providing very general locations where they will work, such as a range of miles along the Colorado River. As trained professionals, they respect National Park regulations and are careful to avoid disturbing cultural resources, sensitive environmental areas, and recreational activities.

When Snelling applied, park officials first rejected his request by saying he could find suitable sites outside the Grand Canyon. When he persisted, additional challenges came, and Snelling methodically answered or rebutted each bureaucratic complaint. Park officials then changed their story, dropped their claim that other suitable sites were available, and issued a permit that required Snelling to traverse the canyon in a separate trip and locate every proposed sampling site with GPS coordinates and photographs, without any assurance of ever being authorized to actually collect the samples needed. No other scientist had ever been subjected to such a demand.

When public records requests revealed that National Park officials were explicitly discriminating against Snelling’s faith, his attorneys and Congressman Trent Franks, R-Ariz., made additional requests for the research permit to be issued. After the Park Service failed to respond in a timely manner to those requests, Snelling filed suit in the U.S. District Court for the District of Arizona.

Alliance Defending Freedom is an alliance-building, non-profit legal organization that advocates for the right of people to freely live out their faith.


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