Controversies

Christian geologist sues Grand Canyon for religious discrimination

A Christian geologist-turned-creationist, who claimed Grand Canyon National Park denied his request to obtain rocks from the Park based on his religious beliefs, is suing on grounds of alleged religious discrimination.

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Andrew A. Snelling, a geologist with a doctorate in the field from the University of Sydney, named the Grand Canyon National Park and the U.S. Department of Interior and the National Park Service in his lawsuit.

Dr. Snelling, in November 2013, requested permission to remove 60 half-pound rocks from various areas of the Colorado River within the canyon, from park administrators – a request that was denied last July.

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Dr. Snelling’s lawsuit, filed May 9, alleges NPS’s actions “demonstrate animus towards the religious viewpoints of Dr. Snelling … and violate Dr. Snelling’s free exercise rights by imposing inappropriate and unnecessary religious tests to his access to the park.”

His beliefs were not mentioned in his permit request, but, according to the New York Times, Dr. Snelling was “no strange to park officials, as he had guided many Biblical-themed rafting trips through the canyon and done research there.”

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“It’s one thing to debate the science,” said Gary McCaleb, senior counsel for Alliance Defending Freedom, the conservative Christian nonprofit representing Dr. Snelling. “But to deny access to the data not based on the quality of a proposal or the nature of the inquiry, but on what you might do with it is an abuse of government power.”

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The lawsuit alleges Grand Canyon National Park discriminated against Dr. Snelling “because of his creationist beliefs and by doing so violated Snelling’s constitutional rights and the Religious Freedom Restoration Act,” according to ScienceMag.org.

It also alleges NPS did not abide by President Trump’s recent religious freedom executive order.

"This case perfectly illustrates why President Trump had to order executive agencies to affirm religious freedom,” said McCaleb. “Because park officials specifically targeted Dr. Snelling's religious faith as the reason to stop his research.”

Karl Karlstrom, a geologist at the University of New Mexico who reviewed Dr. Snelling’s proposal for NPS, offered a different opinion. Karlstrom said the proposal was not “well-written, up-to-date or well referenced” and concluded “Dr. Snelling has no scientific track record and no scientific affiliation since 1982.”

When reached for comment, a Grand Canyon National Park representative said the National Park Service does not comment on pending litigation.

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