Are donations made to the Ark Encounter violating federal laws?

Are donations made to the Ark Encounter violating federal laws? December 18, 2014
Photo: Answers in Genesis
Photo: Answers in Genesis

Since the news broke that the Ark Encounter was losing its bid for an 18 million dollar tax incentive, its parent company Answers in Genesis has announced a new dollar for dollar fundraising campaign.

While donation matching is nothing new for non-profits, there is a big legal issue at hand that is simply being ignored. Can Answers in Genesis, a religious non-profit organization raise money for a for-profit business and claim them to be tax deductible?

The scenario is described in a previous post taken from an email that the Freedom From Religion Foundation sent out:

Answers in Genesis (AiG) is a Christian fundamentalist group that advocates a literal interpretation of the bible, and owns the Creation Museum. Through a subsidiary nonprofit, it also owns Ark Encounter, a for-profit LLC, and has fundraised extensively for the park.

Donations to AiG, a nonprofit, are tax deductible, while donations directly to Ark Encounter, a for-profit company, would not be. But AiG fundraising materials include a space for donations to Ark Encounter, and note that donations are “tax deductible to the fullest extent allowed by law.” On the AiG website, donors have the option to designate contributions to Ark Encounter.

A separate Ark Encounter website also states that sponsorship is tax deductible.

Thus it appears that AiG is taking tax-deductible donations and directly giving them to Ark Encounter, LLC, noted FFRF Staff Attorney Patrick Elliott.

Nonprofits can run for-profit companies that are related to a charitable purpose, including a religious purpose. But, in order to obtain tax breaks, AiG has taken great pains to assure the state of Kentucky and other government entities that Ark Encounter will be operated as a private, for-profit business. The Ark Encounter website admits, “The for-profit LLC structure also allows the Ark Encounter to be eligible for various economic development incentives that would not have been available with a non-profit structure.”

The organization has already paid the price for its illegal hiring discrimination but it is time the IRS really look into their donation practices. FFRF continued:

“Answers in Genesis cannot have it both ways,” said FFRF Co-President Annie Laurie Gaylor. “Either the Ark Encounter is a religious enterprise and is eligible for tax-exempt donations, or AiG and Ark Encounter can be taken at their word that the park is purely a commercial enterprise.” In the latter case, then AiG is not “‘operated exclusively for religious, charitable, scientific’ or other exempt purposes,” as required for exempt status, and should lose its tax exemption, FFRF contends.

What Answers in Genesis is doing seems to be blatantly illegal, and perhaps they are doing this knowing that right now the IRS cannot audit them for their actions because of a moratorium on non-profit audits thanks to the Republican Party’s IRS witch-hunt.

AiG from the very beginning has been trying to run the Ark Encounter in two ways. They want to the benefits of being a for-profit, secular company while being protected by AiG’s non-profit status. As FFRF states, they “cannot have it both ways,” and must choose to be one or the other.

The Ark Encounter has already lost the ground it wanted in its attempt to discriminate against employees and I think it is time AiG lose its status as well for clearly having no regard for the law and acting as if their religious beliefs trump both state and federal regulations.

Of course, questioning the legality of AiG will be fought with cries of persecution and an anti-Christian agenda. This same tactic just took place after the Lexington Herald-Leader’s editorial department wrote a scathing takedown of organizations attempt to use taxpayer money to fund the ark.

Ham wrote of the paper:

I suggest that the editors of the Herald-Leader have an anti-Christian agenda. It has resulted in inaccuracies in its stories and editorials concerning the Ark project. The paper constantly denigrates the Christian ministry of AiG and regularly attacks the Ark project in order to undermine it to the general public. Their intolerance of anything Christian is so obvious that some Lexington residents have said to me, “we call it the Lexington Herald-Misleader.”

Except the paper paid very little attention to Christian beliefs and focused on Ham’s actions and his use of religion as an excuse to violate the law. In reality, the piece did more for Christianity and the separation of church and state than anything Ken Ham has ever done.

So it appears Ham and the folks at AiG are not interested in opening a park following the laws of the country they decided to operate in and instead are insisting that the laws conform to their religious views.

Ham has already proven he has zero understanding the the founding fathers wishes for a secular country and he has even less understanding the US Constitution and the establishment clause.

Ham’s tactics are becoming more and more childish and desperate as he realizes the American people do not want to pay for his delusions. He believes he has the people on his side, but as it goes with everything else he believes, this belief is not based on evidence, just imagination.

(Parts of this piece have been used previously)


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