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Geologist Sues National Park Service For Denying His Grand Canyon Research Permit, Claiming Religious Discrimination


A geologist claims that Grand Canyon National Park officials denied his research permit request due to his religious views/NPS

A geologist who claims Grand Canyon National Park officials denied his request to collect rock samples from the floor of the park because of his Christian beliefs has sued the National Park Service, arguing their decision was unconstitutional.

Dr. Andrew Snelling back in November 2013 had sought a permit to collect roughly 30 pounds of rocks from the Inner Gorge of the park for use in explaining "geological phenomena and other endeavors from a Biblical perspective." He wanted to collect the samples from the floor of the Grand Canyon "to study the folding of Paleozoic sedimentary structure."

That request, his lawsuit alleges, led to a three-year-long odyssey during which park staff asked two other outside geologists to weigh in on the merits of Dr. Snelling's proposal. One of those geologists, Dr. Karl Karlstrom of the University of New Mexico, in reviewing the proposal demonstrated, in the lawsuit's words, "antipathy for Dr. Snelling’s religious faith."

The other geologist, Dr. Peter Huntoon of the University of Wyoming, "condemned Dr. Snelling’ proposal by stating it 'is not a question of fairness to all points of view, but rather adherence to your narrowly defined institution mandate predicated in part on the fact that ours is a secular society as per our constitution.' ... Dr. Huntoon closed his report by urging the Park Service to include 'internal screening processes [that] should include an examination of the credentials of the submitters so that those who represent inappropriate interests should be screened out.'"

Martha Hahn, chief of the park's Science and Resource Management Research Office, denied Dr. Snelling's permit, stating that “it has been determined that equivalent examples of soft-sediment folds can be found outside of Grand Canyon National Park," the lawsuit stated. However, when asked park officials never specified where they could be found, it added.

"Defendants’ asserted reason for denying the permit application—that appropriate geologic folds outside the Park would serve the objectives of the research— was pretextual," the lawsuit (attached below) argues. "The actual reason behind the rejection was because of Dr. Snelling’s Christian faith and scientific viewpoints informed by his Christian faith."

Grand Canyon officials, noting the ongoing litigation, declined to discuss the lawsuit Thursday.

The 22-page lawsuit claims that the park's decision not to issue him the necessary permit reflects "animus towards the religious viewpoints of Dr. Snelling, and violate(s) Dr. Snelling’s free exercise rights by imposing inappropriate and unnecessary religious tests to his access to the Park."

It also contends that the decision goes against President Trump's executive order of May 4 that reinforced religious freedom in the United States.

Section 1. Policy. It shall be the policy of the executive branch to vigorously enforce Federal law's robust protections for religious freedom. The Founders envisioned a Nation in which religious voices and views were integral to a vibrant public square, and in which religious people and institutions were free to practice their faith without fear of discrimination or retaliation by the Federal Government. For that reason, the United States Constitution enshrines and protects the fundamental right to religious liberty as Americans' first freedom. Federal law protects the freedom of Americans and their organizations to exercise religion and participate fully in civic life without undue interference by the Federal Government. The executive branch will honor and enforce those protections.

"Defendants’ research permit policies and practices violate the free speech protections of the First Amendment to the United States Constitution facially and as applied because they permit Park officials to engage in content-based and viewpoint discrimination, are vague, are overbroad, are prior restraints, and grant government officials unfettered discretion in the restriction of scientific research based on the religious views of the research applicant," argues the lawsuit, which requests a trial by jury.


Dr Snellings research request seems confused, at best.  The Inner Gorge of Grand Canyon is Precambrian granite and schist, twice as old the Paleozoic sedimentary rocks, which are remarkably flat and unfolded in the park.

Sounds to me like he is admitting his study is religious rather than scientific.

Might be an ark down there somewhere.

Are other individuals who have a doctorate in geology allowed to take rocks from the canyon? If they are than what is the reason for denying Dr. Snelling other than his religious beliefs?

It is impossible to judge his research based on the information in this story. But you can't study the folding of sedimentary layers by simply collecting rocks, so it sounds a bit fishy. I am a geologist, but I would need to see his complete research proposal to judge what he is asking for. However, most of his "geologic" publications seem to be aimed at proving creationism and are religious, not scientific. They are in creationist journals, not peer reviewed scientific journals.

Typical academic thuggery by these two unprofessional reviewers. We know how this game is played: strangle the work of those who escape from the prevailing groupthink, and then prattle on about how they never publish anything. Huntoon in particular spouted off prejudiced and ignorant babble about Constitutional matters well outside his expertise: the very definition of incompetence. Huntoon should be barred from further involvement in any reviews for the national park system until he publicly rejects his bigotry.


Somehow, Mr Bruckner, I don't think a paragraph of unsupported ad hominem is going to convince as many peoiple as you had hoped/

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