December 2015 Church & State | People & Events

A federal judge has denied a request by Americans United to intervene in a lawsuit in which a fundamentalist Christian theme park is challenging the denial of a tax rebate in Kentucky.

Answers in Genesis (AiG), an anti-gay creationist ministry that believes the Earth is 6,000 years old, is constructing a project called Ark Encounter, which will feature a 510-foot replica of Noah’s Ark. The Kentucky Tourism, Arts and Heritage Cabinet declined in December 2014 to give $18 million in tax rebates to the overtly religious project – thanks in part to repeated complaints over several years by Americans United.

The Tourism Cabinet had been set to grant the incentives to the Ark Park until AU informed the cabinet that AiG, Ark Encounter’s parent company, intended to hire only employees who would agree with the group’s statement of faith, which includes affirmation that homosexuality is on par with bestiality and incest.

In a letter to AiG, cabinet Secretary Bob Stewart wrote in December, “[I]t is readily apparent that the project has evolved from a tourism project to an extension of AIG’s ministry that will no longer permit the Commonwealth to grant the project tourism development incentives.”

Indeed, AiG openly admited on the Ark Park’s website that “The purpose of the Ark Encounter is to point people to the only means of salvation from sin, the Lord Jesus Christ, who also is the only God-appointed way to escape eternal destruction.” 

Nonetheless, in response to the denial AiG filed suit against Kentucky in February, claiming it is the victim of religious discrimination and that it actually has a constitutional right to public support. In March, Americans United asked to intervene in the lawsuit, Ark Encounter v. Stewart, on behalf of four Kentucky taxpayers – including two ordained Christian ministers. In its motion, Americans Un­ited said it seeks to protect its clients’ rights, under the Kentucky Constitution, to avoid funding a religious ministry against their wills. 

Each intervenor “believes that ‘[t]he tax rebates sought for Ark Encounter would effectively compel me, as a Kentucky taxpayer, to subsidize a religious ministry against my will.’”

But in October, a federal district court judge declined to permit AU’s intervention.

“Thus, although proposed intervenors assert the contrary, they have not demonstrated how they have more than a general interest in the enforcement of a state constitutional provision which could easily be shared by all Kentucky residents…,” wrote Judge Gregory F. Van Tatenhove.

The situation remains fluid. In November, Republican Matt Bevin won a gubernatorial election. During his campaign, Bevin backed subsidies for the Ark Park.