Nonprofit accuses Frankfort Township of sponsoring 'unconstitutional religious events'

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A nonprofit organization accused Frankfort Township of sponsoring two unconstitutional religious trips which the township said had already been canceled.

The Freedom from Religion Foundation said it is a national nonprofit organization that advocates against the “entanglement of religion and government” and “government endorsement or promotion of religion.” It said it has more than 31,000 members nationwide and more than 900 in Illinois.

In a letter to Frankfort Township Supervisor Jim Moustis, an attorney from the FFRF explained that a concerned local resident contacted them about the township sponsoring religion-themed trips. It specifically listed trips to the Ark Encounter and Creation Museum in Williamstown, Kentucky, and a trip to Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, to see a performance of the play "Jesus" by a Christian theater group.

The letter included a flyer titled, “The Frankfort Township Board Presents Ark Encounter & Creation Museum.”

Moustis said the trips the letter refers to were canceled before the FFRF sent the letters. Although he questioned the FFRF’s motives, calling it an “anti-religion, anti-God group,” he said the township would be diligent to make sure it doesn’t cross the line when it comes to separating church and state.

Moustis added that no township money went toward funding the trips.

Still, the FFRF’s attorney, Ryan Jayne, detailed why the organization objected to any such trips, arguing it alienates nonreligious and non-Christian residents of the township.

“Sponsoring regular Christian-themed trips shows an endorsement of Christianity on behalf of the Township,” the letter reads. “This endorsement is unconstitutional and excludes the Township’s non-Christian residents, who are being told that they are not part of the Township’s favored religious group.”

Jayne went on to explain how the Ark Encounter is a Christian ministry run by creationist Ken Ham, and its goal is to preach his evangelistic beliefs.

According to Ark Encounter’s website, it’s owned and operated by Answers in Genesis and features a 510-foot-long ark as its centerpiece attraction.

As of midday Tuesday, the township's website still features a document titled, "Senior Upcoming Events" for May through August, which lists both the Noah's Ark Encounter and Creation Museum tour from April and a trip to Lancaster, Pennsylvania, in June.

Moustis said he would instruct the township’s event coordinator to remove the document from the website.