Kentucky’s Tourism Arts & Heritage Cabinet Secretary Bob Stewart informed representatives of the proposed Ark Encounter tourist attraction today that their project will not be eligible for up to $18 million in tax incentives from the state, due to their refusal to pledge not to discriminate in hiring based on religion.
“As you know, since the filing of the original incentive application in 2010, we have strongly supported this project, believing it to be a tourism attraction based on biblical themes that would create significant jobs for the community,” wrote Stewart in a letter to Ark Encounter’s attorney. “However, based on various postings on the Answers in Genesis (AIG) and Ark Encounter websites, reports from Ark Encounter investor meetings and our correspondence, it is readily apparent that the project has evolved from a tourism attraction to an extension of AIG’s ministry that will no longer permit the Commonwealth to grant the project tourism development incentives.”
Stewart explains that their application will not go forward because the state will not grant incentives to a company that openly intends to discriminate in hiring based on religion, saying it is a violation of the state constitution for these incentives to be used to advance religion. He detailed how Ark Encounter representatives had previously promised not to discriminate in hiring several times, but recently they have stated they have every right to do so, saying, “The Commonwealth’s position hasn’t changed. The applicant’s position has changed.”
Stewart cited AiG CEO Ken Ham’s Nov. 19 fundraising letter that accused the Beshear administration of religious persecution and reaffirmed their desire to discriminate in hiring based on religion. He also cited other statements throughout the year from AiG officials claiming the purpose of the park is to evangelize and indoctrinate its visitors.
“Certainly, Ark Encounter has every right to change the nature of the project from a tourism attraction to a ministry,” wrote Stewart. “However, state tourism tax incentives cannot be used to fund religious indoctrination or otherwise be used to advance religion. The use of state incentives in this way violates the Separation of Church and State provisions of the Constitution and is therefore impermissible.”
Stewart went on to wish the Ark Encounter project well, despite the fact that it will receive no money or incentives from the state.
On Monday, Ark Encounter’s attorney sent a letter to Tourism flatly rejecting their demand to pledge in writing to not discriminate in hiring based on religion, saying they had every legal right to do so and still be eligible for state tax incentives.
Both letters from today and Monday can be read at the bottom of this post.
Gov. Steve Beshear — who touted the project at its unveiling at a press conference in December of 2010 — sent the following statement to Insider Louisville on their decision today:
“We expect any entity that accepts state incentives not to discriminate on any basis in hiring. While the leaders of Ark Encounter had previously agreed not to discriminate in hiring based on religion, they now refuse to make that commitment and it has become apparent that they do intend to use religious beliefs as a litmus test for hiring decisions. For that reason, we cannot proceed with the tourism incentive application for the Ark Encounter project.
This does not mean the project will not be built – on the contrary, Ark Encounter has said publicly that the project will be built regardless of availability of state incentives. I have no doubt that the Ark Encounter will be a successful attraction, drawing visitors and creating jobs, much like the Creation Museum.”
There very well may be dinosaurs on Ken Ham’s Ark Encounter boat in Grant County at some point in the future, but much like “Noah,” he will now have to build this with his own money.