Nearly six months after granting preliminary approval to an $18 million tax rebate for a proposed Noah’s Ark-based theme park in northern Kentucky, state authorities revoked the tax break on Wednesday over fears that it would violate the separation of Church and the State, according to media reports. Demands for revoking the tax incentives had grown louder since October, when it emerged that Ark Encounter -- the company that’s planning to build the park -- had implemented a discriminatory hiring policy that required applicants to believe in a literal biblical account of creation.
“State tourism tax incentives cannot be used to fund religious indoctrination or otherwise be used to advance religion … the use of state incentives in this way violates the separation of church and state provisions of the Constitution and is therefore impermissible,” Kentucky Tourism Secretary Bob Stewart reportedly wrote in a letter to the organization. “Certainly, Ark Encounter has every right to change the nature of the project from a tourism attraction to a ministry.”
Ark Encounter plans to build a Christian faith-based theme park by 2016 with a 500-foot “life-size” wooden replica of Noah’s Ark as its main attraction. Answers in Genesis, Ark Encounter’s parent company, which also owns and operates the controversial creation museum, had sought approval to keep 25 percent of its sales tax collections for 10 years -- a figure that amounted to $18 million, according to media reports.
Ark Encounter had, in an earlier statement, said that its decision to include religion as a hiring criterion was perfectly legal as it is an openly religious organization.
However, Kentucky Governor Steve Beshear said that Ark Encounter had gone back on its pledge to not discriminate on the basis of religion. “It has become apparent that they do intend to use religious beliefs as a litmus test for hiring decisions,” he reportedly said.
Beshear added that the construction of the park could still move forward and he hoped that it would be a “successful attraction” for visitors and create jobs in the state, according to media reports.