Answers in Genesis (AiG), developer of the Ark Encounter theme park in northern Kentucky, confirmed Feb. 3 it is filing a federal lawsuit against state officials for denying the park participation in the state’s tax rebate incentive program.
Last August construction began on the massive theme park that includes a full-size replica of Noah’s Ark in Williamstown, Ky. The Ark Encounter is part of the Creation Museum which has drawn more than 2 million visitors to its facility in nearby Petersburg, Ky.
The state’s tourism incentive program prompted AiG’s president, Ken Ham, to choose Kentucky as the place to build. The incentive includes a tax rebate that allows a partial refund of future sales tax collected at the finished theme park. The park projects excellent attendance and is expected to bring in significant tourism dollars to the state.
As news of the project spread, anti-Christian protesters became vocal against the project. Some argued that the tax refund would violate the separation of church and state. On Dec. 10, 2014, bowing to pressure by secularist groups outside the state, Kentucky officials announced a decision to deny the Ark Encounter theme park an opportunity to participate in the tax rebate incentive program.
State officials told the park’s developer that AiG could participate in the rebate program if they agree to two conditions. First, they must waive the right to include a religious preference in hiring. Second, the organization must affirm that AiG will not tolerate “proselytizing” at the theme park.
Although the tax rebate is available to all qualifying tourist attractions seeking to build in the state, AiG’s application was rejected solely because of the religious identity and message. The lawsuit explains how this action by Kentucky officials, including Gov. Steve Beshear, violates federal and state law and amounts to unlawful viewpoint discrimination.
“Our organization spent many months attempting to reason with state officials so that this lawsuit would not be necessary,” said AiG president Ken Ham. “However, the state was so insistent on treating our religious entity as a second-class citizen that we were simply left with no alternative but to proceed to court. This is the latest example of increasing government hostility towards religion in America, and it's certainly among the most blatant.”
AiG produced a video that provides relevant background concerning its suit. It features Ham, who became nationally known for his debate against Bill Nye “The Science Guy” one year ago, and constitutional law attorney Mike Johnson. Johnson is the chief counsel of Freedom Guard, a non-profit legal organization defending religious liberty, and is providing his legal services to AiG free of charge. The video also features clips of a 2010 press conference, at which Gov. Beshear originally expressed his enthusiastic support for the Ark project.
Included as defendants in the lawsuit are Gov. Beshear and Robert Stewart, Kentucky’s secretary of the tourism, arts, and Heritage Cabinet.
In the video, Johnson explains the well-established legal principles supporting AiG’s case, and why these principles are important to defend. An AiG press release said, “[A]ll freedom-loving Americans should be concerned with these government abuses, regardless of their individual perspectives on the book of Genesis. When such an unconstitutional state action goes unchallenged, it sets a dangerous precedent for all other religious and minority groups.”
Serving as counsel in the case with Johnson is Nate Kellum, chief counsel of the Center for Religious Expression, who is also providing legal services at no charge to AiG.