Kentucky Judge botches ruling on discriminatory Ark Park

Kentucky Judge botches ruling on discriminatory Ark Park January 26, 2016

 

By Sam Grover
Staff Attorney
Freedom From Religion Foundation

 

Noah's ark
Here’s a biblically “accurate” depiction of the fabled ark construction painted circa 1493.

Answers in Genesis, the evolution-denying religious group led by young earth creationist Ken Ham, is now eligible for up to $18 million in tax incentives from the Kentucky government, thanks to a federal judge’s misguided ruling. Answers in Genesis plans to use government tax incentives to fund its Ark Encounter theme park, which will promote the biblical fable of Noah’s Ark as an actual historic event.

 

AiG's ark
Here’s AiG’s decidedly less authentic attempt at constructing an ark. Photo courtesy of AiG.

To qualify for the tax incentives, Ark Encounter is being run as a for-profit business. Yet Answers in Genesis claims it can discriminate against non-young earth creationists in its hiring practices, since AiG is a religious non-profit. This means AiG will only hire fundamentalist Christians willing to sign its statement of faith. This contradictory approach is designed to allow AiG to promote fundamentalist Christianity at the Ark Park while simultaneously receiving government subsidies to build the structure.

U.S. District Judge Gregory Van Tatenhove ruled on Monday that the Kentucky government could not exclude Ark Encounter from receiving government funds despite concerns that the project will be used to promote religion. Perversely, the judge concluded that because Kentucky attempted to avoid violating the Establishment Clause by denying funding to AiG’s religious project, the state had pressured AiG “to give up its religious beliefs, purpose, or practice in order to receive a government benefit and gain acceptance into a government program” and that it therefore “impermissibly burdens AiG’s free exercise of religion.” In other words, the judge absurdly claimed that by not directly funding AiG’s religious project, Kentucky has burdened AiG’s religious liberty.

On the issue of discriminatory hiring, Judge Van Tatenhove narrowly interpreted the state’s objectives as being merely “to promote tourism and improve the state’s overall economy through jobs and commerce.” He did not give due consideration to the state’s interest in prohibiting discrimination in hiring practices. Had AiG attempted to discriminate against racial minorities instead of religious minorities, one might imagine the judge would have taken the state’s interest more seriously.

Unfortunately, a spokesperson for Governor Matt Bevin has already announced that Kentucky officials do not plan on appealing the judge’s preliminary injunction ruling. While the case is still ongoing in court, this ruling bodes ill for the ultimate result. (Arguably the case should now be dismissed, since there is no longer a controversy between the parties.)

Of course it’s still unclear why fundamentalist Ken Ham needs government assistance to build his ark. After all, Noah and his family supposedly accomplished the same task without municipal bond offerings and sales tax rebates (not to mention an industrial crane!) You can read more about the inconsistency here.

 

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