Christian Geologist Sues National Park Service for Denying Request to Conduct Research in Grand Canyon

PHOENIX – A leading Christian geologist has filed suit against the U.S. National Park Service, alleging that they wrongfully discriminated against him on the basis of his religious beliefs by not allowing him to conduct research in the Grand Canyon.

Dr. Andrew Snelling is a research geologist who currently serves as director of research at Answers in Genesis. In November 2013, Snelling requested permission to study sedimentary layers within the Grand Canyon. However, four months later, the National Park Service (NPS) denied Snelling’s request.

According to a lawsuit filed by Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF) on behalf of Snelling, the NPS sought counsel from three geologists upon receiving Snelling’s request. All three criticized Snelling’s Christian faith and discouraged NPS officials from accepting his research request.

The suit alleges that Dr. Karl Karlstrom of the University of New Mexico took issue with Snelling’s work for Answers in Genesis, saying it would be better if Snelling conducted research at “alternate sites.” Dr. Peter Huntoon of the University of Wyoming said Snelling’s proposal was “inappropriate,” describing it as “dead end creationist material.” Dr. Ron Blakely of Northern Arizona University said, “It is difficult to review such an outlandish proposal.”

On March 4, 2014, the NPS denied Snelling’s permit request, stating, “It has been determined that equivalent examples of soft-sediment folds can be found outside of Grand Canyon National Park.” When Snelling asked for the locations of the alternate sites, the NPS did not respond.

In his lawsuit, Snelling argues that the geological features he wants to study are unique to the Grand Canyon.

“This was in direct contradiction to Dr. Snelling’s position that his due diligence research had not disclosed any adequate alternate locations; that the folds that he sought to examine were unique to the Canyon location; and that a primary purpose of his proposed study was to evaluate these particular folds to determine when the folding occurred,” the lawsuit, which was filed in a U.S. District Court in Arizona, states.

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Snelling and his legal counsel believe that the NPS rejected his request because of his faith and biblical scientific viewpoints.

“The government isn’t allowed to discriminate against someone based on their viewpoint, and National Park officials have absolutely no legal justification in stopping a scientist from conducting research simply because they don’t agree with his views,” said ADF attorney Michael Kitchen in a statement. “Using someone’s views to screen them for a government benefit is unconstitutional.”

A press release from Answers in Genesis proposed that NPS officials are worried that Snelling’s research findings would challenge the prevailing viewpoint of the Grand Canyon’s formation.

“Dr. Snelling’s proposed study could yield results that will undermine an idea that is heavily promoted inside the park: namely, the argument that the canyon’s strata were formed over millions of years,” it outlined. “With his intended research, Dr. Snelling seeks to gather samples at folds inside the canyon where all the layers were bent but were not shattered because the rocks were still soft as they folded—supposedly remaining soft over a period of 450 million years.”

Snelling said that his findings would be “openly reported for all scientists to draw their own conclusions, whether [or not] they agree with my worldview interpretation of the history of the Earth.”

“We expect debate about what the evidence means, but the park shouldn’t prevent us from collecting data just like other scientists,” he added. “I am merely asking for equal treatment by the government.”

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