On Tuesday, Kentucky’s Tourism Arts & Heritage Cabinet revoked $18 million in tax exemptions for a Bible-themed amusement park, Ark Encounter. The park, spearheaded by creationist and charlatan Ken Ham, was originally set to feature animatronic dinosaurs on a “life-size replica” of Noah’s ark. Those plans, however, were contingent upon Ham receiving millions of dollars of tax breaks from Kentucky, whose government initially smiled upon the project as a job-creating tourist attraction. Without those funds, the future of the park is unclear.
Given Kentucky’s early enthusiasm for the project, why did the tourism board yank its tax breaks? It turns out Ham only wanted to hire Christians—in particular, politically conservative young-Earth creationists. Job applications for the park instructed applicants to submit “[s]alvation testimony,” a “[c]reation belief statement,” and a “[c]onfirmation of your agreement with the AiG statement of faith.” (AiG is Answers in Genesis, Ark Encounter’s parent company and Ham’s ministry.) As I noted in October, this statement of faith mandated that applicants believe in Christ, the Holy Spirit, Satan (as “the personal spiritual adversary of both God and mankind”), Adam and Eve, “the Great Flood of Genesis,” a 6,000-year-old Earth, and the eternal damnation of “those who do not believe in Christ.” All employees must follow “the duty of Christians” and attend “a local Bible believing church.”
And, for good measure, the park required that all employees oppose abortion, euthanasia, gay rights, and trans rights.
This was too much for Kentucky's government, which informed Ham that state law forbids companies receiving tax incentives to discriminate on the basis of religion. Ever the fighter, Ham fired back, accusing Kentucky of religious discrimination against the ark park. He then launched a billboard campaign in the state featuring an illustration of the ark and gloating, “To all of our intolerant liberal friends: THANK GOD YOU CAN’T SINK THIS SHIP.” Ham also took to his website to decry “the lies and the vicious opposition” spread by his opponents—including, apparently, the tourism board.
The tourism board seems to not have taken kindly to these antics, and informed Ham that, by running the park as a de facto ministry, the state would have to cut ties. This (legally mandated) move leaves the park back where it started: surviving on junk bonds from gullible congregations. Whether it will limp through to completion or collapse altogether remains to be seen; the seemingly doomed project has, after all, been brought back from the brink of death once before. But if we were taking bets, I’d wager that this wreck is sunk.