Americans United for Separation of Church and State is representing four Kentucky taxpayers, two of whom are ordained Christian ministers, seeking to intervene in a lawsuit filed by Answers in Genesis (AiG), a fundamentalist Christian ministry that is suing a Kentucky office that denied it tax incentives.
In a motion to intervene and a proposed motion to dismiss the lawsuit, filed last night in a federal district court, Americans United says it wants to prevent taxpayer dollars from being used to unconstitutionally finance a religious ministry.
“A fundamentalist Christian theme park run by a creationist ministry doesn’t deserve any form of public assistance,” said the Rev. Barry W. Lynn, executive director of Americans United. “Kentucky never should have gotten involved with the Ark Park, but we’re going to help get it out of this mess and protect taxpayer money from misuse.”
In December, the Kentucky Tourism, Arts and Heritage Cabinet declined to give $18 million in tax rebates for Ark Encounter, a proposed theme park that will feature a 510-foot replica of Noah’s Ark. The Tourism Cabinet had been set to grant the incentives to the Ark Park until Americans United 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 response to the denial, AiG filed suit against Kentucky in February, claiming it is the victim of religious discrimination – the group also blamed Americans United for its woes.
Americans United has been monitoring Kentucky’s involvement with Ark Encounter since 2010, when Gov. Steve Beshear first promised taxpayer assistance for the project.
After years of complaints from AU and others, Kentucky officials finally denied AiG’s request for tax incentives. 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 admits 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.”
In its motion, Americans United says 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.’”
Said Americans United Senior Litigation Counsel Gregory M. Lipper: “Ark Encounter is religious from bow to stern, and that means the government shouldn’t be helping to build it. AiG has every right to spread its religious message, but taxpayers are not required to foot the bill.”
Ark Encounter v. Stewart is being litigated by Americans United Legal Director Ayesha N. Khan, Lipper and Steven Gey Fellow Charles C. Gokey. David Tachau and Katherine E. McKune, from the Kentucky law firm of Tachau Meek, are serving as local counsel.
Americans United is a religious liberty watchdog group based in Washington, D.C. Founded in 1947, the organization educates Americans about the importance of church-state separation in safeguarding religious freedom.