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Judge: Ark Builders Get Tax Break

Friday, January 29, 2016

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Calling it a victory for freedom of religion, a creationist group in Kentucky that is building a replica of Noah's ark is celebrating a judge’s decision that the state cannot prevent the group from collecting sales tax incentives just because their organization is Christian.

U.S. District Judge Gregory Van Tatenhove has ruled that the state’s Tourism Cabinet cannot exclude Answers in Genesis from the incentive on its Ark Encounter project based on its “religious purpose and message,” the Louisville Courier-Journal reported Tuesday (Jan. 26).

Flood of Ideas

Ark Encounter is a one-of-a-kind theme park that is being built by the 501(c)(3) group Crosswater Canyon Inc., a subsidiary of Answers in Genesis, near Williamstown, KY.

As previously reported, the theme park contains a full-size, wooden ark made in the likeness of Noah’s ark as it is described in Genesis 6. It is part of an 800-acre theme park that will feature themed restaurants and a petting zoo, and is close by to the group’s museum that teaches creationism.

Kentucky officials blocked the tax incentives, which could be worth up to $18 million, at the end of 2014. Answers in Genesis founder Ken Ham said the ruling was a “victory for the free exercise of religion in this country.

The Troyer Group

U.S. District Judge Gregory Van Tatenhove ruled that the state cannot exclude Answers in Genesis from the incentive on its Ark Encounter project based on its “religious purpose and message,"

“The state gave us no choice but to bring this legal action,” Ham said Monday (Jan. 25) in a statement to the newspaper. “We, along with our attorneys, tried for many months to show these officials why their actions were blatantly violating our rights under the federal and state constitutions.”

According to the daily paper, the incentive allows tourism projects to recover 25 percent of development costs through state sales tax rebates. Groups such as bourbon distilleries, hotels and a speedway that hosts a NASCAR race have received the incentives in the past.

Kentucky-based ark Encounter—which describes itself as an apologetics ministry that focuses on answering questions regarding creation, evolution, science and the age of Earth—previously said it is building the ark to help remind Christians about the Bible’s account of the Ark.

When complete, the ark will be about 508 feet long and 79 feet tall (using what the group said was the Nippur Cubit and calculating it against the King James Version of Genesis 6:15, which describes the ark being 300 cubits long by 30 cubits high). The Ark Encounter website says the ark will be the largest timber-frame structure in the United States when it is completed in July of this year.

Support Dries Up

Despite the group projecting that between 1 million and 2 million people will visit the $86 million park during the 40 days it will be open to visitors each year, the state chose to block the attraction from the incentive in 2014.

Ark Encounter

State tourism officials said they made their decision after seeing statements from website postings and investor meetings that indicated the park would “be an extension of (Answers in Genesis)."

State tourism officials, under former Kentucky Gov. Steve Beshear, said they made their decision after seeing statements from website postings and investor meetings that indicated the park would “be an extension of (Answers in Genesis’) ministry,” according to the Louisville newspaper.

But when now-Gov. Matt Bevin took office in December, he said he supports tax incentives for the project.

After filing the lawsuit in February, Lawyers for Answers in Genesis argued that the Ark Encounter should not get different treatment just because its message was religious based.

The judge agreed, the newspaper said. In his opinion issued Monday, he wrote that because the tourism incentive “is neutral, has a secular purpose, and does not grant preferential treatment to anyone based on religion, allowing (Answers in Genesis) to participate along with the secular applicants cannot be viewed as acting with the predominant purpose of advancing religion.”


Tagged categories: Ethics; Government; Laws and litigation; Lawsuits; Project Management; Public Buildings; Public spaces

Comment from Mark Anater, (1/29/2016, 8:30 AM)

This decision is ridiculous. It ignores established precedent, and the obviously religious motives of AiG aren't even addressed. If the state appeals, it is highly likely the decision will be overturned. Unfortunately Kentucky's new governor is a Tea Party conservative who pandered to evangelicals during the campaign by promising to allow the tax exemption, so he probably will not appeal. When the park fails and the tax revenue Kentucky gave up is never recovered, no one will be held accountable.

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