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Grand Canyon bookstore reorders 300-plus copies of book

PHOENIX (BP)–Officials at the Grand Canyon National Park have ordered additional copies of “Grand Canyon: A Different View” — a hardcover book of photos and essays advocating creation science and being sold in the park’s bookstores.

Elaine Sevy, a spokesperson with the National Park Service (NPS), confirmed additional copies have been ordered, indicating a quantity of perhaps hundreds before stating she did not know the precise number.

However, the book’s compiler — Tom Vail of Phoenix — told Baptist Press the park had ordered more than 300 additional copies.

In recent weeks, the debate over whether the park should offer the book for sale has been detailed in reports in various news media, including The New York Times, The Washington Post and The Los Angeles Times. Dozens of papers across the United States also have carried stories from the Associated Press and Religion News Service.

“It’s amazing to me that this little book has created so much commotion,” Vail said. “It’s unfortunate that this book, which was aimed at presenting a creationist point of view in laymen’s terms and how the Grand Canyon [supports] that, has become essentially a legal issue.”

Vail’s book has been targeted by numerous secular scientists who have asked the NPS to remove the volume from the bookstores’ inventories.

“We urge you to remove the book from shelves where buyers are given the impression that the book is about Earth science and its content endorsed by the National Park Service,” a letter from leaders of several science organizations implored the park superintendent.

Signers included presidents of the Paleontological Society, American Geophysical Union, National Association of Geoscience Teachers, Association of American State Geologists, Society for Vertebrate Paleontology, American Geological Institute and the Geological Society of America.

“The book aggressively attacks modern science and broadly accepted interpretations of the geologic history of the Grand Canyon,” the letter stated.

Of the book’s 23 contributors, Vail said, 17 are scientists — 14 of whom have Ph.D. degrees in scientific areas from universities such as Harvard, Princeton and Penn State.

“Because the view [of these contributors] disagrees with evolutionary geologists, there’s a small number of people who have turned this into a legal issue,” Vail observed.

Sevy said the NPS policy office will review whether the bookstores should continue to carry Vail’s volume and “ultimately come up with a policy to guide personnel throughout the park system” on similar issues.

“Now that the book has become quite popular, we don’t want to remove it,” Sevy explained, confirming that e-mails received on the issue have been about “50-50,” with approximately half supportive of the book and half opposed to it.

In addition, Sevy said, no one assumes local governments and school systems endorse the views of each and every book in the libraries they operate. She said the park’s bookstores have carried books “based on Native American [spiritual] beliefs for many years.”

A check of the Grand Canyon bookstores’ website, www.grandcanyon.org/bookstore found at least two other items for sale with apparent spiritual dimensions:

— “Echoes Through Time,” a video, includes footage of the “culture and spiritual heritage of the canyon’s native peoples.”

— “Plateau Journal: Law & Order Vol. 4/#1,” published by the Museum of Northern Arizona, includes a section titled, “Human Law/Natural Law: Whose World Is This Anyway?”

Another organization protesting the sale of Vail’s book at the canyon is the Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER), which describes itself as a “private, non-profit organization that protects the government employees who protect our environment. PEER works with and on behalf of these resource professionals to effect change in the way government agencies conduct business.”

“The Park Service leadership now caters exclusively to conservative Christian fundamentalist groups,” charged Jeff Ruch, PEER’s executive director, in an online press release. “The Bush Administration appears to be sponsoring a program of Faith-Based Parks.”

Sevy, however, stated her belief that “this country is based on freedom of religion and freedom of speech. Those are some of our guiding principles. … We feel like a full spectrum is part of our culture. … We want to offer all different kinds of beliefs, all different kinds of theories.”

The Alliance Defense Fund (ADF), based in Scottsdale, Ariz., is representing Vail in an effort to see the book’s continued sale at the Grand Canyon.

“If the request of ‘A Different View’s’ recent critics is followed, … the [U.S.] Department [of the Interior] will expose itself to almost certain liability,” wrote Dale M. Schowengerdt, the ADF’s litigation staff attorney, in a letter to Gale A. Norton, secretary of the interior.

“Federal courts are very solicitous when it comes to protecting private speech from government censorship,” Schowengerdt warned. “The NPS has upheld the constitutional rights of Mr. Vail by keeping the book in place among competing viewpoints. We encourage NPS to maintain this policy and resist pressure from groups urging censorship.”

The ADF, according to Schowengerdt’s letter, is “a not-for-profit public interest law and educational organization. We seek to resolve disputes through education of public officials about the constitutional rights of people like Tom Vail. When necessary, we proceed to litigation to secure these rights.”

According to the organization’s website, the ADF was launched in 1993 by more than 30 Christian leaders, including James Dobson, D. James Kennedy and the late Bill Bright and Larry Burkett.

    About the Author

  • Keith Hinson