The Creation "Museum" is experiencing some dread and trepidation about our visit, and they have sent a letter to me and to the SSA expressing their concerns. These are some reasonable worries, given that there will be a huge number of us (240 and counting) showing up in one mass. Here's what they have to say, and my comment to all of you.
Dr. Paul Myers (and the Secular Student Alliance)
University of Minnesota-Morris
600 East 4th Street
Morris, MN 56267
Re: Creation Museum Visit - Notice of Policies
Dear Dr. Paul ("P.Z.") Myers and the SSA:
As the Security Manager for the Department of Public Safety at the Answers in Genesis Creation Museum, I am writing in regard to your planned visit to the museum, along with those associated with the group called the Secular Student Alliance, scheduled for August 7, 2009.
The purpose of this letter is to advise you of our standard policies and requirements concerning guest behavior.
Succinctly stated, and posted on signs at a number of locations at the museum premises, is the following notice:
The Creation Museum is private property, an outreach of Answers in Genesis. Guests at the museum are expected to conduct themselves in a polite, respectful manner at all times. Loud, disrespectful, destructive, obscene, or abusive behavior will not be tolerated, and may result in your removal from the premises. Please be courteous to other guests, security personnel, and our staff while you are here. Thank you!
Also, please be advised that vehicles and all packages, bags, and articles may be subject to inspection when on the premises or when entering or leaving the premises.
In reviewing your blog and website at http://scienceblogs.com/pharyngula, we have observed a number of hostile, crude, and profane comments that suggest that some in the SSA group may be using your visit as an opportunity to engage in demonstrations, mocking behavior, wearing offensive clothing, or in other conduct that would be offensive to our staff and to other guests. We note, for example, that you have written that you urge the group to wear "godless clothing."
We understand that your group (which you have described as a "horde" or "mob") will consist of over 200 persons, many of whom have posted comments on your Pharyngula blog ridiculing Ken Ham and the Creation Museum, using profane language, and some are indicating that it is their intent to conduct themselves in a manner that is provocative, overtly homosexual in behavior, or otherwise socially unacceptable for guests of this privately owned Christian facility. As I'm sure you're aware, some of those statements reference intentions to be "loud" and also to wear "armbands" and T-shirts or other clothing with images or wording that would be considered offensive to our staff and others at the museum. Such conduct will not be tolerated.
The Creation Museum is a privately owned facility; there is no legal right to engage in demonstrations, to harass or insult other guests, staff members, or speakers, or to otherwise engage in conduct that would be disruptive or rude. Again, such actions will not be permitted.
So long as you and the SSA group are willing to abide by our policies requiring civil behavior at all times, to include being respectful of others and of our facilities, then you will be welcome as our guests; but if you do not intend to abide by these policies, then please cancel your visit to the Creation Museum.
We request your acknowledgment of receipt of this letter and your agreement to abide by these policies.
We note that, unlike the exchanges posted on the Pharyngula site, communications from Lyz Laddell of the Secular Student Alliance have generally been polite and respectful, which we appreciate.
We remain willing to host you and the SSA group, provided you assure us that your party will remain civil and abide by our policies and that you have addressed those who have expressed contrary intentions for their visit. We request the courtesy of receiving your written response prior to your arrival. If we do not receive your written assurance that your party will abide by our policies, we will have no choice but to turn your group away at the entrance.
Department of Public Safety
cc: John Pence, Esq.
Here's what I expect: EVERYONE in our group will be firm, rational, and will not shy away from asking hard questions. You will feel free to wear some distinguishing clothing — a scarlet A, a Darwin fish, a t-shirt, something so that we can tell we are members of the same group. You will discuss the material on display with your peers, but with other visitors to the "museum" if and only if they invite it.
There are a number of things you will not do, however.
Do not show up wearing obscenities or particularly abusive articles of clothing. Dress casual, but look good — you are setting an example. Pro-science t-shirts are excellent, t-shirts with naked lesbians masturbating with bibles will give them an excuse to throw you out, so don't do it. The SSA won't even give you a ticket if you show up looking like you want to brawl.
You will not be disruptive. This is an information gathering mission that will make you a better informed individual to criticize bad ideas. Do not interfere with other visitors' ability to examine the place. Ask questions only where appropriate. Collect questions that you can ask of any of the real scientists who will be in our group. Do not get into loud arguments. If a discussion starts getting angry on either side I want you to be the ones to back off.
Remember, if you are calm, civil, and well-behaved, and you tour the "museum", we win. If you are calm, civil, and well-behaved, and the security guards throw you out because they don't like the fact that you're an atheist, we win. If you are angry, rude, and cause trouble that gives them a reasonable excuse to throw you out, we lose, and I will be very pissed off at you.
Before you go into the "museum", you will have to get a ticket from the SSA staff. You will be expected to sign an agreement promising your good behavior before you get one, and we'll lay down a few rules for good behavior. We'll probably have several designated counselors who will be charged with keeping everyone in line, too — we will police our own (another reason we'd like to be able to tell you are one of our godless horde on site), and if you're causing a scene that might lead to SSA's disrepute, we'd like to ask you to leave before their security does.
After we leave their private property, it will be time to laugh and mock and vent, and we will: this trip will produce over 200 experienced people who know exactly what kind of lunacy the Creation "Museum" represents, and we will express ourselves in opinion pieces, on blogs, at school board meetings, and in gatherings with our friends. That's where we get our payoff, not in rudeness during our visit that gets us evicted.
Our model for this visit will be my infamous expulsion from a movie theater. Remember, what made that work is that I did absolutely nothing to justify getting thrown out: I followed all of their procedures for getting tickets, I used my full name, I was respectably dressed, and I was behaving myself in line, having a quiet conversation with friends and family. That left no doubt that my ejection was arbitrary and personal and an attempt to silence me. It would not have been effective if I'd been capering about, rudely accosting people, or essentially making myself a target for justifiable removal. It's the same situation at this event. Do not hide who you are, but also don't give them any excuse to mistreat you, other than your identity as an atheist.
If you really want to vent about the abomination in Kentucky, register for the SSA conference. Lots of attendees will be there to talk, and I'll be giving the keynote speech at the meeting…and my topic will be atheist activism, and I'll be including material I'll be gathering that Friday at the Creation "Museum", including giving some formal rebuttals.