A Christian organization building a replica of Noah’s Ark has announced possible legal action against Kentucky after state officials demanded it give up certain religious rights in order to participate in a tax-incentive program for organizations that attract tourists to the state.
Answers in Genesis, which is building the life-size version of Noah’s Ark – 510 feet long, 85 feet wide and three stories high – announced Thursday it was informed by the state that it could participate in the tourism program on two conditions.
The organization is required to “waive its right to include a religious preference in hiring” and “affirm that it will tolerate no ‘proselytizing’ at the theme park.”
Not possible, AiG responded, on billboard messages and elsewhere.
AiG said Kentucky officials bowed to pressure from secularist groups when it denied the Ark Encounter theme park an opportunity to participate in a popular tax rebate incentive program offered by the state’s tourism office.”
The restrictions demanded by the state are “unlawful,” AiG asserted.
“It is well-established under both federal law (Title VII) and state law (KRS 344.090) that religious organization and entities like AIG are specifically permitted to utilize a religious preference in their hiring,” the organization said.
“Moreover, the government cannot show hostility toward religion or discriminate against persons or organizations who express religious viewpoints.”
Answers in Genesis CEO Ken Ham explained his organization’s position.
“We have been working on this project with Kentucky for more than two years, so this just-received denial announcement is as disappointing as it is costly for our ministry without the expected rebate,” he said. “Our construction has already begun at the Williamstown, Kentucky, site, and it must proceed. We are fully prepared to defend our fundamental rights in court if necessary, as this issue is of huge importance, not only to us, but to every religious organization.”
He said two law firms, Freedom Guard and the Center for Religious Express, already have agreed to represent AiG in the matter.
“The legal question here has already been answered unequivocally by the courts,” said Mike Johnson, chief counsel of Freedom Guard. “No state is allowed to treat religious organizations less favorably than other organizations who seek to avail themselves of a facially neutral economic incentive program. Just because some state officials may not agree with the message of a Christian organization does not mean that organization and its member can be censored or treated as second-class citizens.”
AiG explained that, contrary to some information released by critics, the tax incentive has not contributed to the project yet.
It is only a “rebate” of some of the new tax dollars the project would generate “if and when certain performance benchmarks are ultimately reached,” AiG said.
The project originally was approved for the program in 2012 “like so many other economic development projects had been previously allowed.”
The ownership structure of the organization later was modified, so a new application was made.
“AiG simply wishes to exercise its rights as a religious organization to hire adherents of its own religion.”
WND reported in February the center expected to draw more than 1 million visitors a year.
The first phase will cost an estimated $73 million. The initial costs, including building permits and licenses, property preparation, architectural plans and exhibit designs, already had been paid through the sale of memberships to the exhibit as well as donations prior to a bond offering that put in place the rest of the funding.
The first phase includes parking lots with a tram that will carry visitors through a valley to the entrance. There, a pathway will take visitors on a trip back in time, showing what the Ark would have looked like, how the animals would have been protected, how Noah and his family would have lived and more.
It will be one of the biggest, if not the biggest, attractions built by a Christian ministry to proclaim its message: that man was separated from God and His holiness, and Jesus came to earth as both God and man to open a door for humankind to return to Him.
Ham’s Creation Museum, only a short drive from the site for the Ark Encounter, has had about 2 million visitors in its first six years of existence, with estimates that the Ark would attract many times that.
It’s not meant as only a tourist attraction or job generator, although it undoubtedly will play those roles, Ham said at the time.
“Answers in Genesis is a ministry. We make no apology about the fact we proclaim the authority of the Word of God,” he said.