Faith takes a hit at government museum

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Two New Mexico scientists have alleged that a government-owned museum used tax money to denigrate religion and promote atheism at its annual Darwin Day celebration without giving believers in God an opportunity to present their case.

A flier promoting “Darwin Day” at the New Mexico Museum of Natural History and Science in Albuquerque — a division of the New Mexico state government’s Department of Cultural Affairs — listed New Mexicans for Science & Reason, the Humanist Society of New Mexico and Freedom From Religion, Albuquerque as cosponsors of the Darwin celebration in February, provoking to action New Mexico residents and scientists James Campbell and Michael Edenburn.

“It is my understanding that the religion clauses of the First Amendment require that states ‘pursue a course of complete neutrality toward religion,'” Campbell wrote in a letter to New Mexico Gov. Susana Martinez on Feb. 3. “Is it appropriate for a state-funded museum to join forces with organizations such as the Humanist Society and the Freedom From Religion group to promote an anti-religious agenda?”

Four days later, a letter from the cabinet secretary for the New Mexico Department of Cultural Affairs assured Campbell the apparent collaboration was a misunderstanding. But sensing a cover-up, Campbell and Edenburn attended the Darwin Day lectures, found them to be true to their billing and submitted a Freedom of Information request for emails and documents produced in planning the Darwin Day observance of the birth and life of evolutionist Charles Darwin.

The documents suggested that the museum actively solicited and recruited pro-evolution atheist groups to help plan its 2014 Darwin Day events and made no attempt to involve religious groups or those skeptical of Darwinian evolution. The museum worked closely with atheists to plan the Darwin Day events, which included anti-religious lectures and attacks against Intelligent Design and creationism. Once Campbell filed his inquiry with the governor’s office, the planning team attempted to cover up the collaborations and offered false information about what really happened, the scientists said.

“The emails showed a clear participation between museum staff and atheist groups in planning the presentations given on Feb. 12,” Edenburn said. “I am angry because a public institution in New Mexico used taxpayer money to plan and promote an event that denigrated religion. This is wrong and should not be allowed to continue.”

Edenburn said he and Campbell sent press packets to 11 major news outlets in New Mexico informing them of the issue but have yet to spark any interest. The two had a meeting scheduled with museum staff July 2 — the only response from the governor’s office since the men sent a letter detailing the museum’s participation in selecting the talks and speakers.

“I would like to urge everyone to keep in touch with Darwin Day programs offered by state institutions,” Edenburn said. “Challenge them if they participate in viewpoint discrimination or programs that promote anti-religious or atheistic views.”

The Discovery Institute, a Seattle-based think tank that plays a leading role in the Intelligent Design movement which argues that the universe is the product of intelligence rather than blind chance, posted a series of blog articles on the controversy in late June. Casey Luskin, research coordinator at the Discovery Institute’s Center for Science and Culture, argued that the problem was not inviting atheist groups to the museum but failing to also invite theists and proponents of Intelligent Design.

“Needless to say, if the terms of the story were reversed — a state-run museum joins exclusively with Christian groups on Christmas Day to bash atheism or other religious beliefs, then seeks to cover its tracks when challenged — you’d never hear the end of it,” Luskin wrote in a blog post. “And rightly so. This is an important story, revealing what appears at this stage to be a major violation of free speech as well as of the separation of church and state.”

— by Dick Peterson | WNS

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