Grand Canyon Gives In to Creationist Suing for Religious Discrimination

The park will now allow Andrew Snelling, a young-Earth creationist geologist, to collect rocks for research.

A view of the Grand Canyon from the Northern Rim  (Brian Killigrew / AP)

Updated on July 3 at 3:30 p.m. ET

Back in May, Andrew Snelling sued Grand Canyon National Park officials after a failed, years-long attempt to get a research permit to collect rocks in the park. Snelling trained as geologist and he is young-Earth creationist who believes in a literal interpretation of the Bible. In his view, the Grand Canyon formed after Noah’s flood.

Snelling has now dropped his case, as reported by the Phoenix New Times, after the park reversed course to issue him a permit for the rocks. In a press release, a lawyer for the Alliance Defending Freedom, the Christian legal advocacy group that helped Snelling file the complaint, applauded the outcome, “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.”

The National Park Service confirmed that it has issued a permit for Snelling’s August 6 rafting trip in the park. “Issuance of the administrative launch permit neither implies an admission of fault by the NPS nor does it set a precedent for future issuance of administrative launch permits,” a spokesperson said in a statement.

Snelling’s original research application did not mention his young-Earth creationist beliefs. Nor did it disclose his job as director of research at Answers in Genesis, the Ken Ham-led organization that runs the Creation Museum in Kentucky. But his religious beliefs did come up when the park sent his research application out to mainstream geologists for peer review.

One reviewer criticized the scientific validity of Snelling’s application and the “avowed creationist agenda” of young-Earth creationists. The reviewer acknowledged in an email to a park official, “In these types of proposals, you have a hard job.”

In fact, Grand Canyon park officials are no stranger to creationist controversies. Just as the canyon is a potent symbol for geologists who see it the product of millions of years of geological forces, the canyon has taken on similar importance among young-Earth creationists. So much so that a group of Christian geologists—who are not young-Earth creationists—recently wrote a book about the Grand Canyon to refute the literal biblical interpretation of the Earth’s history.

Meanwhile, there is a lot of young-Earth creationist activity in the Grand Canyon. Snelling also works as a tour guide with Canyon Ministries, an outfit that offers rafting tours pointing out what they claim is evidence of Noah’s flood. These rafting trips require permits from the park. In 2004, a controversy erupted over a book by the Canyon Ministries founder Tom Vail that was being sold at the national park’s bookstores. The Grand Canyon National Park has also approved research by young-Earth creationists, including Snelling, in the past. It’s unclear why they acted differently in this case.

The New York Times reported in late May that one of Snelling’s lawyers at ADF had heard from park officials, and the two sides were planning to meet. The case is resolved now, and Snelling will get his rocks. But the young-Earth creationists’ obsession with the Grand Canyon goes on.