Judge says Kentucky theme park can hire people based on religious beliefs

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The proposed Ark Encounter theme park in Petersburg, Ky. Photo courtesy Ark Encounter/A Larry Ross Communications.

The proposed Ark Encounter theme park in Petersburg, Ky. Photo courtesy Ark Encounter/A Larry Ross Communications.

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (Reuters)  A federal judge ruled that developers building a replica of Noah’s Ark for a controversial Kentucky theme park can use religious beliefs as part of their hiring criteria and still retain tax incentives.

Answers in Genesis, the group developing the Ark Encounter theme park, initially received more than $18 million in tax incentives from the state in the summer of 2014.

However, by the end of the year, state officials withdrew the offer, citing concerns that the organization would only hire employees who shared its fundamentalist Christian beliefs.

The nondenominational group, which believes in creationism and runs the Creation Museum in nearby Petersburg, sued the state last February to restore the incentives.

U.S. District Judge Gregory Van Tatenhove wrote in his 71-page opinion on Monday (Jan, 25) that while Answers is “clearly a religious organization,” tourist destinations could be affiliated with religion if they serve the state’s “secular” goal of boosting local revenue.

“Bringing non-residents into Kentucky who will spend money on food, lodging, gas, and tourist attractions will increase revenues and benefit the state’s economy through jobs and spending,” Tatenhove wrote. “Such a purpose is plainly secular.”

The 510-foot replica of the Ark will be used to tell the story of the great flood from the biblical book of Genesis. Developers have said that the incentives would be used to help fund future projects, which would be based off other biblical stories.

“The law is crystal clear that the state cannot discriminate against a Christian group simply because of its viewpoint, but that is precisely what happened here,” Answers in Genesis President Ken Ham said in a statement. “The decision today is a victory for the free exercise ofreligion in this country.”

The judge’s injunction comes more than six weeks after Matt Bevin, Kentucky’s new governor, took office with a large backing of Christian conservatives.

“We are pleased the Court has ruled in favor of the Ark project. This Administration does not support discrimination against any worthy economic development projects,” said Jessica Ditto, a spokesman for the governor.

The $92 million project is scheduled to open in July.

(Reporting by Steve Bittenbender)

  • Eric

    The word “replica” is inaccurate and misleading. There is no known original in the first place and using the word implies that AiG’s view of history is correct.

    More importantly, the judge basically pretended the religious purpose of the park didn’t exist, at least according to quote. Sure, the park will serve the secular purposes he describes, but it will also serve AiG’s religious purposes, too. Not an either/or. There’s still no reason KY tax-payers should fund the religious propaganda. Nor should they subsidize a state-revenue-producing park that only hires co-religionists, a point of the ruling I still don’t get. Then again, the decisions in Establishment cases are often arbitrary, based on arbitrary distinctions between “religion” and everything else.

  • Linda Whidby

    I agree with Eric. The revenue that is made will come from people who subscribe to that park’s religious ideology. The tax dollars of everyone should not go to support the projects of a few. I have no problem with the park’s existence. But I’m not interested in visiting or in supporting it with my tax dollars.

  • Cindi

    Fine, no problem, this means all get equal treatment. Time for the Satanic Temple to open a theme park next door and get the same deal.

  • Karen Jones


  • This is a question of why a business can claim taxpayers money, while refusing to obey laws addressing taxes and separation of church and state. The Judge has lost his objectivity, this has to be reviewed by the SCOTUS.

  • Brien

    Sounds like a law concerning religion!

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  • Jacob S

    Tax incentives of this sort exist because the money brought in to the government will outweigh the incentives in the long run. Tax payers are not funding AiG’s religious purpose (a purpose I think is incorrect, for the record), but are instead making it easier for AiG to give the tax payers money (in form of generated tax revenue and business in the same area).

    This has no more to do with funding the religious purposes of AiG then a tax incentive to walmart has to do with funding the distribution of cheap crap to the populace. The populace can buy cheap crap or not, as it chooses, as it can go to this theme park or not. But in either cases, projections predict that such business will bring in money greater than the tax incentives to wherever they are built, and so governments try to attract them to their area with such incentives, because governments like money and generally don’t distinguish between businesses that want to spread a view point or cheaply made garbage or whatever.

  • Howard

    Ramen brother, may the sauce be with you

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