Kentucky’s Tourism Arts and Heritage Cabinet says representatives of the proposed Ark Encounter theme park in Grant County have not yet responded to their September request that they pledge in writing to not discriminate in their hiring practices based on religion. As Tourism Secretary Robert Stewart stated in letters Aug. 24 and Sept. 4, until Ark Encounter does so and complies with state law, their application for over $18 million in state tax incentives will not go forward.

As Insider Louisville noted last month, at issue in the dispute is the tax status and independence of the various groups affiliated with the park. The nonprofit ministry Answers in Genesis created the for-profit Ark Encounter, LLC in order to be eligible for the state tax incentives, and the park is to be operated by their nonprofit Crosswater Canyon, which also operates their Creation Museum in northern Kentucky. However, the lines between these organizations have blurred, as they share many of the same leaders and AiG raises funds for the park claiming such donations are tax-deductible. Ark Encounter’s job applications are posted on AiG’s website, which includes a requirement that employees agree with AiG’s fundamentalist religious beliefs — a legal practice for the AiG ministry itself, but one that precludes Ark Encounter from receiving tax incentives from the state.

Mike Zovath — Ark Encounter’s president, who is also vice president and co-founder of AiG — claims Tourism’s requirement that the park not discriminate in hiring if they are to receive $18 million in state tax breaks is a violation of the organizations’s First Amendment rights.

Yesterday, the Freedom From Religion Foundation highlighted the blurred lines between these organizations in a letter to the Internal Revenue Service, asking the federal agency to investigate and possibly strip the tax-exempt status of AiG and Crosswater Canyon, based largely on evidence that their supposedly tax-deductible donations are being given directly to the for-profit park. (The full FFRF letter to the IRS can be read at the bottom of this post.)

“Answers in Genesis cannot have it both ways,” said FFRF Co-President Annie Laurie Gaylor. “Either the Ark Encounter is a religious enterprise and is eligible for tax-exempt donations, or AiG and Ark Encounter can be taken at their word that the park is purely a commercial enterprise.”

In the meantime, AiG president and founder Ken Ham continues to push forward with the Ark Encounter project, which will depict Noah’s Ark as a true story. Here is Ham flying a helicopter over the land where the park is to be built, where they have done preliminary excavation.

FFRF letter to IRS on AiG

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Joe Sonka
Joe Sonka is a staff writer at Insider Louisville focusing on government, politics, education and public safety. He is a former news editor and staff writer at LEO Weekly and has also freelanced for The Nation and ThinkProgress. He has won first place awards from the Louisville Metro chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists in the categories of Health Reporting, Enterprise Reporting, Government/Politics, Minority/Women’s Affairs Reporting, Continuing Coverage and Best Blog. Email him at [email protected]