Ark Encounter

The leader of a Christian ministry says his group will file a federal discrimination lawsuit against the state over the rescinding of a tax rebate benefit for a Noah’s Ark attraction it’s building in northern Kentucky.

Answers in Genesis says the state committed “viewpoint discrimination” when it withdrew the $18 million benefit in December. Founder Ken Ham announced plans for the suit in an online video posted Tuesday.

Answers in Genesis

A planned amusement park in northern Kentucky featuring Noah’s Ark is not eligible for $18 million in state tourism tax benefits.

The Herald-Leader reports Tourism, Arts, and Heritage Cabinet Secretary sent the group Answers in Genesis a letter saying the commonwealth could not issue such tax benefits for projects with discriminatory hiring practices.

Answers in Genesis is the Christian group behind the Creation Museum, which seeks to explain the origins of the earth through the teachings of the bible. The group’s next project has been dubbed the Ark Park, and will feature a giant ship based on the story of Noah and the great flood.

But questions over whether the state should allow the park tourism tax benefits arose when Answers In Genesis refused to commit to not discriminating based on religion in the hiring process for park employees.

In his letter to a lawyer for Answers in Genesis, Tourism Cabinet Secretary Bob Stewart wrote “it is readily apparent that the project has evolved from a tourist attraction to an extension of AIG’s ministry that will no longer permit the commonwealth to grant the project tourism development incentives.”

Officials with Answers In Genesis were not immediately available for comment following news of the state's decision.

House Speaker Greg Stumbo believes the state is not following the law by providing tax incentives for a Noah’s Ark theme park in northern Kentucky. 

In a news conference this week in his Capitol office, Stumbo predicted the issue will wind up in court.  As a lawyer and former attorney general, Stumbo believes the state is violating the separation of church and state as mandated in the U.S. Constitution. 

The Kentucky Tourism Development Finance Authority this week gave preliminary approval to as much as $18 million in tax breaks for the first phase of the Ark Encounter which is scheduled to open in 2016 in Grant County.  Project Coordinator Mike Zovath told the Lexington Herald-Leader the state is not promoting a religion with the incentives and it’s purely an economic issue.

The project is affiliated with Answers in Genesis, which developed and operates the Creation Museum in Boone County.

The Kentucky Tourism Development Finance Board has approved $18 million in tax breaks for a controversial Christian theme park in Northern Kentucky.

The board voted unanimously Tuesday to approve sales tax incentives for the Ark Encounter, a religious theme park to be built in Williamstown, Ky., by a company controlled by Answers in Genesis, a conservative Christian non-profit that also operates the Creation Museum.

The project is slated to include a facsimile of Noah’s Ark and the Tower of Babel, and will proselytize Christian evangelicalism to patrons, according to an Answers in Genesis spokesman.

Finance board chairman Keith Williams said the project was evaluated like any other that comes before the panel, and a preliminary analysis of its economic impact bodes well for the state.

“They could produce a good amount of tourism for the state of Kentucky. It could help the hotel industry, the restaurant industry in that entire area. So if that is the case, and it does boost tourism, then they, yeah, they meet that criteria," Williams said.

The project will be eligible for $18 million in sales tax breaks over ten years if its attendance generates sufficient economic activity in and around the park.