After years of complaints by Americans United about Kentucky’s ongoing taxpayer assistance for a Christian fundamentalist theme park, it seems state officials may finally be having second thoughts about their involvement with the project.
Since 2010, AU has chronicled the ever-expanding list of tax and other incentives offered by Kentucky lawmakers to Ark Encounter, a proposed theme park featuring a 510-foot replica of Noah’s Ark. The fact that the Ark Park’s parent company, a ministry called Answers in Genesis (AiG), has admitted that the purpose of the venture is “evangelistic” had no effect on politicians’ seemingly endless willingness to prop up the planned park through its years of financial struggles. Until now.
We learned yesterday that $18 million in tax incentives that had been preliminarily promised to the Ark Park by the Kentucky Tourism Development Finance Board are at risk thanks to AiG’s discriminatory hiring practices.
In August, AU informed the Kentucky Tourism Development Finance Authority and Gov. Steve Beshear (D) that AiG had posted online an opening for a computer-assisted design technician to work at Ark Encounter. That job post has since been removed, but in the August description, AiG said applicants must submit a “[c]reation belief statement,” as well as “[c]onfirmation of [their] agreement with the AiG Statement of Faith.”
That “statement of faith” required potential AiG employees to affirm their belief that homosexuality is a sin on par with bestiality and incest, that the earth is only 6,000 years old and that the Bible is literally true. Anyone who doesn’t agree with those statements won’t be considered for the job.
In its letter, AU said “[A]rk Encounter’s ongoing religious discrimination violates terms to which it previously agreed in order to receive these tax incentives and … state-subsidized religious discrimination raises serious concerns under… the Kentucky Constitution.”
It seems AU’s point hit home pretty quickly: Just five days after AU’s complaint, Bob Stewart, secretary of the Kentucky Tourism, Arts and Heritage Cabinet, told AiG that the job posting raised “serious concerns” and “[t]he Commonwealth doesn’t believe that Ark Encounter, LLC will be complying with state and Federal law in its hiring practices.”
As a result, Stewart said, “we are not prepared to move forward with consideration of the application for final approval without the assurance of Ark Encounter, LLC that it will not discriminate in any way on the basis of religion in hiring.”
According to the Louisville Courier-Journal, which obtained Stewart’s correspondence with Ark Encounter, Ark Encounter attorney James Parsons said the job in question was for AiG, not Ark Encounter, and his client will “comply with all applicable federal and state laws” on hiring.
That defense is pretty thin. AiG is Ark Encounter’s parent company, after all. Does Parsons really expect anyone to believe it has zero say in the people the Ark Park hires?
The original posting has been removed from AiG’s website, and a website for Ark Encounter states that “Staff for the Ark Encounter will be hired by the Ark Encounter LLC when construction is complete.” However, back in August the design technician position was advertised under the heading: “Answers in Genesis, Careers at Answers in Genesis and the Creation Museum - CAD Technician Designer, Ark Encounter.” At the time, it was listed on AiG’s website, so it sure seems like AiG is involved with Ark Park hiring.
We’re not exactly sure why Kentucky officials suddenly got cold feet, but it might have something to do with the fact that Ark Encounter isn’t going to employ anywhere near as many people as originally thought. When AiG finally announced it would begin hiring for the Ark Park over the summer, it was reportedly looking to fill just 265 jobs, 218 of which will be part time. That’s far short of the 900 positions lawmakers had expected.
Whatever the reason for Kentucky’s change of course, it seems things are finally looking up. Lawmakers had been so desperate to create jobs that they were willing to do just about anything – even something unconstitutional – if it meant a little economic boost for their state. But now that it’s clear Ark Encounter is only planning to hire Christian fundamentalists, the Ark Park isn’t looking like such a great deal for Kentucky. Perhaps this will be the beginning of a flood of backlash that will finally sink the ark’s taxpayer subsidies.