Okay, we have done a great job, we have ended the $18,000,000 tax incentive the Ark Encounter was previously awarded to build their genocidal themed park.
We have celebrated, but there is still work to be done.
The Ark Encounter is still discriminating against employees.
In his statement about denying the tax incentive, there is something very important the Governor of Kentucky said:
“While the leaders of the Ark Encounter had previously agreed not to discriminate in hiring based on religion, they now refuse to make that commitment and it has become apparent that they do intend to use religious beliefs as a litmus test for hiring decisions.”
The Ark Encounter is refusing to commit to removing the religious requirements for hiring. The problem is, the Ark Encounter is still a for-profit company. They are still bound by law to be an equal opportunity employer. The law clearly states:
Religious discrimination involves treating a person (an applicant or employee) unfavorably because of his or her religious beliefs. The law protects not only people who belong to traditional, organized religions, such as Buddhism, Christianity, Hinduism, Islam, and Judaism, but also others who have sincerely held religious, ethical or moral beliefs.
So we must still keep the pressure on the IRS and the federal and local governments to hold the company accountable for their violations. Simply losing its tax incentive is not enough, they still must follow the laws.
Answers in Genesis is still collecting tax-deductible donations on behalf of the Ark Encounter.
The Freedom From Religion Foundation has sent a letter to the IRS asking that the park be evaluated because of its illegal collection of donations through its non-profit Answers in Genesis.
In the letter FFRF shows that,
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.”
And this violates the law as FFRF shows,
“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.
“While religiously themed, a ‘theme park’ is quintessentially a commercial entertainment activity and not charitable,” wrote Elliott. “Ark Encounter representatives have said that from an operational standpoint, the project will ‘have the look and feel of any other theme park.’ ”
“Based on information that is publicly available about the operations of both organizations, they are not operated exclusively for exempt purposes,” concluded Elliott, asking the IRS to investigate the operations and tax-exempt status of AiG.
The Ark Encounter is still receiving plenty of taxpayer help.
According to Americans United,
Unfortunately, this story is not over. The overtly religious Ark Park has already received significant assistance from state and local lawmakers, including a 75 percent property tax break over 30 years from the City of Williamstown (a town of about 3,200 near where the park will be located); an $11 million road upgrade in a rural area that would almost exclusively facilitate traffic going to and from the park; a $200,000 gift from the Grant County Industrial Development Authority to make sure the project stays in that county; 100 acres of reduced-price land and, finally, a $62 million municipal bond issue from Williamstown that has kept this project afloat.
So as you can see, there are still two major, illegal violations of federal law at hand, not to mention the park is still receiving massive taxpayer help. While saving the Kentucky taxpayers millions of dollars was a huge victory, let’s not lose sight of the work ahead.
If Ham insists on building this theme park, he is going to have to do so follow every last letter of the law. If he chooses not to, he is going to be picking a fight he cannot win.