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Kentucky Sinks Tourism Tax Incentives for Noah's Ark Theme Park

Kentucky Sinks Tourism Tax Incentives for Noah's Ark Theme Park

Kentucky officials withdrew a state tax incentive package in December for a Christian nonprofit building a replica of Noah’s ark, claiming the rebate violated the principle of church-state separation.

Answers in Genesis (AIG), an apologetics ministry, plans to build an 800-acre theme park centered around a life-sized Noah’s ark in Williamstown, Ky. The organization also runs the Creation Museum near Petersburg, Ky., located 20 miles west of Cincinnati, Ohio. Almost 2.3 million people have visited the museum since it opened in 2007. Due in part to its success, AIG started construction earlier this year on the Ark Encounter theme park, which is expected to bring hundreds of jobs to the area. The project also will feature an ancient city, live animals, and a Tower of Babel replica.

AIG sought approval to participate in Kentucky’s tax-incentive program designed to draw tourism to the Bluegrass State. The program allows tourist attractions to recover up to 25 percent of their development costs by refunding the sales tax they collect for the first 10 years of operation. In 2011, AIG received initial approval from the Kentucky Tourism Development Finance Committee to participate in the program, authorizing up to $43.1 million in rebates, USA Today reported.

Last spring, AIG informed the tourism committee the park’s development plan had changed: The park would be built in phases instead of all at once, and AIG had taken sole ownership of the facility. The committee asked AIG to re-apply for the tax-incentive program, which it did. The state granted approval with two conditions: AIG could not show religious preference in hiring and could not discuss Christianity at the exhibit, according to comments made by Ken Ham, president and CEO of AIG, in a YouTube video.

Using the rebate for religious purposes violates the principle of church-state separation, Kentucky officials claim.

“State tourism tax incentives cannot be used to fund religious indoctrination or otherwise be used to advance religion,” tourism secretary Bob Stewart wrote in a letter to AIG, according to The Courier-Journal. “The use of state incentives in this way violates the separation of church and state provisions of the Constitution and is therefore impermissible.”

Ham notes the new conditions set forth by the committee are not found anywhere in the law. In addition, as a nonprofit AIG has a legal right to hire people who believe in the Christian faith, he said.

“The state has known all along that our ark project was based on the Bible,” Ham argued in the video. “It’s always been a religious attraction.”

James Parsons, an attorney for AIG, sent a letter to the state noting the board's demands on hiring policies violate both state and federal law, amounting to “viewpoint discrimination,” The Christian Post reported. If the demands are not removed, Parsons warns AIG will “seek redress in federal court.”

In a recent blog post, Ham discussed ongoing attacks by liberal media outlets and atheists who hope to stop the Ark Encounter from being built. In response to “spreading blatant lies and misinformation” about the project, AIG commissioned 16 billboards that went up this week across Kentucky, as well as a digital board in New York City’s Times Square. The billboards feature a picture of the ark and read, “To all of our intolerant liberal friends: THANK GOD YOU CAN’T SINK THIS SHIP.” Ham said he hopes the billboards will encourage people to visit the AIG website and “discover the truth.”

Courtesy: WORLD News Service

Publication date: January 6, 2015