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The New Mexico Museum of Natural History and Science
Wikimedia/Photo by John Phelan
The New Mexico Museum of Natural History and Science

New Mexico scientists fight taxpayer-funded evolution celebration

Free Speech

Two New Mexico scientists hope next year’s Darwin Days celebration at the New Mexico Museum of Natural History and Science may evolve into a more civilized affair. If their challenge to the state’s use of its publicly funded institution and taxpayer money to denigrate religion and promote atheism can gain traction with state officials, media, and the public, the event could include talks on intelligent design and creation.

A flier promoting Darwin Days at the museum in February listed New Mexicans for Science & Reason, Humanist Society of New Mexico, and Freedom From Religion, Albuquerque as museum co-sponsors, stoking the anger of James Campbell and Michael Edenburn. “It is my understanding that the religion clauses of the First Amendment require that states ‘pursue a course of complete neutrality toward religion,’” Campbell wrote in a letter to the governor of New Mexico on Feb. 3.“Is it appropriate for a state-funded museum to join forces with organizations such as the Humanist Society and the Freedom From Religion group to promote an anti-religious agenda?”

Four days later, a letter from the Cabinet Secretary for the New Mexico State Department of Cultural Affairs assured Campbell the apparent collaboration was a misunderstanding. But sensing a coverup, Campbell and Edenburn attended the Darwin Days lectures, found them to be true to their billing, and submitted a Freedom of Information request for emails and documents produced in planning the Darwin Days celebration of the birth and life of evolutionist Charles Darwin.

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The documents showed the museum actively solicited and recruited pro-evolution atheist groups to help plan its 2014 Darwin Day events and made no attempt to involve religious groups or those skeptical of Darwinian evolution. The museum worked closely with atheists to plan the Darwin Day events that included anti-religious lectures and attacks against intelligent design and creationism. And once Campbell filed his inquiry with the governor’s office, the planning team attempted to cover up the collaborations and offered false information about what really happened, the scientists said.

“The emails showed a clear participation between museum staff and atheist groups in planning the presentations given on Feb. 12,” Edenburn said. “I am angry because a public institution in New Mexico used taxpayer money to plan and promote an event that denigrated religion. This is wrong and should not be allowed to continue.” 

Edenburn said he and Campbell sent press packets to 11 major news outlets in New Mexico informing them of the issue, but have yet to spark any interest. The two have a scheduled meeting with the museum staff July 2. It’s the only response from the governor’s office since the two sent a letter detailing the museum’s participation in selecting the talks and speakers.

“I would like to urge everyone to keep in touch with Darwin Day programs offered by state institutions,” Edenburn said. “Challenge them if they participate in viewpoint discrimination or programs that promote anti-religious or atheistic views.”

Dick Peterson
Dick Peterson

Dick lives in Summerville, S.C., is a former newspaper reporter and editor, and is now a freelance writer and caregiver for his wife with multiple sclerosis.

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