Church-state group opposes tax break for Ark museum

Critics say non-fundamentalist Christians need not apply for jobs at a creationist theme park being built with tax incentives from the state of Kentucky.

By Bob Allen

A nonprofit group advocating church-state separation urged Kentucky officials in an Aug. 22 letter to deny tax incentives for a proposed theme park based on Noah’s Ark, claiming the break would compel taxpayers to support both employment discrimination and a particular religion.

Last month Kentucky officials gave preliminary approval of $18 million in tax breaks for Ark Encounter, a project of Answers in Genesis, a Christian apologetics ministry that teaches young-earth creationism through programs including the Creation Museum in Petersburg, Ky., opened in 2007.

ark-encounter-wallpaper-constructionLawyers representing Americans United for the Separation of Church and State said public support for the Ark project was problematic from the start, but a recent online job posting requiring applicants to subscribe to the organization’s statement of faith crosses a new line.

A career opportunity for a computer-aided design technician for Ark Encounter describes the position as “not just a job” but “also a ministry.” Items needed for possible employment include a “salvation history,” “creation belief statement,” and confirmation that the applicant agrees with the Answers in Genesis statement of faith.

The statement affirms that biblical authority “is not limited to spiritual, religious, or redemptive themes but includes its assertions in such fields as history and science.” It affirms “the great Flood of Genesis was an actual historic event, worldwide (global) in its extent and effect,” and that “Scripture teaches a recent origin for man and the whole creation, spanning approximately 4,000 years from creation to Christ.”

The faith statement says the “days” described in the creation story in Genesis “do not correspond to geologic ages,” but refer to six consecutive 24-hour days of creation.

It further dictates that “any form of sexual immorality, such as adultery, fornication, homosexuality, lesbianism, bisexual conduct, bestiality, incest, pornography, or any attempt to change one’s gender, or disagreement with one’s biological gender, is sinful and offensive to God.”

When Ark Encounter originally sought tax incentives to build the theme park in 2011, Answers in Genesis entered into a “tourism development agreement” that it would not discriminate on the basis of religion when hiring for the project.

In a recent op-ed for the Lexington Herald-Leader, however, Daniel Phelps, the president of the Kentucky Paleontological Society and vice president of Kentuckians for Science Education, said this time around, “non-Christians need not apply.”

“It is apparent that Ark Encounter is likely to discriminate against non-Christians,” Phelps said. “Moreover, Catholics, mainstream Protestant Christians and some conservative Christians who have different doctrinal beliefs are also unlikely to be hired.”

Phelps said granting a tax incentive to a group that has a policy of religious discrimination in hiring is “unacceptable” and “clearly a case of government entanglement with religion.”

The Americans United letter said Ark Encounter’s policy of religious discrimination raises concerns under Article 5 of the Kentucky constitution, which forbids governmental preference by law “to any religious sect” and provides that no one’s civil rights shall be taken away on account of “belief or disbelief of any religious tenet, dogma or teaching.”

“State tax subsidies should not be used to support religious discrimination or proselytization,” said Americans United Associate Legal Director Alex Luchenitser. “The state aid sought by the Ark Park would do exactly that. It should be denied.”

Barry Lynn, the group’s executive director, said “this is clearly a sectarian project,” and “unless you’re willing to adopt fundamentalist Christian views, you might not even be able to get a job slinging hot dogs at Ark Encounter.”

When the Kentucky Tourism Development finance board gave preliminary approval for the tax incentives in July, the chairman said it was because the project would boost tourism, benefiting area hotels and restaurants and generating tax revenues for the state.