A planned Noah’s Ark Encounter theme park, currently being built by a Kentucky-based Christian ministry, Answers in Genesis, has been denied up to $18 million in tax rebates. The rebates, preliminarily approved in July, are off the table because of allegations the theme park has evolved from a tourism attraction to a Christian outreach program.
As reported recently in the Inquisitr, groups were claiming religious discrimination against the proposed park. According to the Guardian, the Kentucky tourism state secretary, Bob Stewart, wrote a letter to the organization explaining the denial.
“Certainly, Ark Encounter has every right to change the nature of the project from a tourism attraction to a ministry,” Stewart wrote in the letter. “However, state tourism tax incentives cannot be used to fund religious indoctrination or otherwise be used to advance religion.”
Answers in Genesis was seeking approval to participate in a state tax-incentive program that would have let the park keep 25 percent of the sales tax it collects for 10 years, amounting to more than $18 million, reports the Courier Journal. Mark Looy, vice-president for outreach at Answers in Genesis, said in an email on Wednesday the group is exploring its legal options. Without Stewart’s recommendation, however, the application will not go back to the authority for final approval.
The denial of a state tourism tax break revolves around the proposed hiring policies of the theme park, which would involve screening applicants based on religion. Answers in Genesis said in a meeting with state tourism officials last month, and in correspondence this week from their Covington lawyer Jim Parsons, that the ministry intends to screen employees based on their religion.
Kentucky Governor Steve Beshear, who had supported the project since it was announced in 2010, said in a written statement that leaders of Answers in Genesis had reneged on a pledge not to discriminate in hiring.
According to the Guardian, Beshear said “it has become apparent that they do intend to use religious beliefs as a litmus test for hiring decisions.”
The Courier Journal reported the group’s attorney, Parsons, sent a letter to the cabinet on Monday, arguing that the state’s demands on hiring policies violate state and federal law.
“If you insist on the newly imposed condition… it will amount to unconstitutional viewpoint discrimination and my client will have no choice but to seek redress in federal court,” Parsons wrote.
Alex Luchenitser, associate legal director for Americans United for Separation of Church and State, said it’s unlikely a lawsuit would succeed in federal court, according to the Courier Journal.
“Kentucky is doing the right thing and is respecting the rights of taxpayers to not be forced to subsidize religious indoctrination and discrimination,” Luchenitser said. “The state is also respecting the fact that jobs that are going to be supported by state subsidies must be open to all.”
[Image via Wikimedia]