A dispute over a creationist group’s hiring practices could sink tax credit plans for a Noah’s Ark theme park and creationist museum in Kentucky.
Kentucky officials say the law is clear that the state cannot support tax incentives for the park because its parent company demands potential employees sign a “Statement of Faith” in creationism, but developers of the Ark Encounter park in Williamston say they’re being held to a different standard because of their religious beliefs.
Ark Encounter LLC is the developer of the park, which is scheduled to open in 2016. It is owned by the company Answers in Genesis.
The tax credit dispute was sparked when the group Americans United for the Separation of Church and State complained to the Kentucky Tourism Development Finance Authority that Answers in Genesis had posted a job on its website seeking a web designer for the Ark Encounter project, according to the Louisville Courier-Journal.
It required job candidates “to supply a written statement of their testimony, a statement of what they believe regarding creation, and a statement that they have read and support the AIG Statement of Faith,” the Courier-Journal reported.
And that meant tax credits for the park project amounted to state support for religion, Kentucky officials said.
“The Commonwealth does not provide incentives to any company that discriminates on the basis of religion and we will not make any exception for Ark Encounter, LLC …” Bob Stewart, secretary of the Kentucky Tourism, Arts and Heritage Cabinet, wrote in a letter obtained by the Courier-Journal.
“The Commonwealth must have the express written assurance from Ark Encounter, LLC that it will not discriminate in any way on the basis of religion in hiring.”
But an attorney for the park project argued that the ad was for Answers in Genesis, not Ark Encounter. Responding to Stewart, attorney Mike Parsons wrote that Ark Encounter would “comply with all applicable federal and state laws.” The state, he wrote, was imposing an additional requirement to Ark Encounter’s application for tax incentives.
Ark Encounter’s Executive President Mike Zovath – who is also a founder of Answers in Genesis – told Reuters that if tax incentives that were approved in July are withdrawn now, it would be a violation of the group’s religious freedom.
“We’re hoping the state takes a hard look at their position, and changes their position so it doesn’t go further than this,” he said.
The tax credits, worth about $18.25 million over 10 years, aren’t necessary for the park to open, according to the Courier Journal, but could finance its future expansion.
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