First up from the God Machine this week is a story out of Kentucky, where a religious theme park has sought and received taxpayer support, which may now evaporate as its owners discover that public funds come with public accountability (thanks to reader R.P. for the tip).
At issue is a theme park called Ark Encounter, created by the creationist group Answers in Genesis, which will feature a 510-foot reproduction of Noah's Ark. To help bolster the attraction, state officials in Kentucky agreed to $18 million in tax subsidies to help Ark Encounter's finances.
The developer of a Noah's Ark-based theme park in Kentucky said on Wednesday he would fight for his religious rights after state officials warned he could lose millions in potential tax credits if he hires only people who believe in the biblical flood.
Ark Encounter, which is slated to open in 2016 in Williamston, Kentucky, is not hiring anyone yet, but its parent company Answers in Genesis asks employees to sign a faith statement including a belief in creationism and the flood.
State officials and Ark Encounter lawyers have exchanged letters in which the state threatened not to proceed with tax incentives for the park if there was discriminatory hiring practices, a state official confirmed on Wednesday.
Specifically, all Ark Encounter employees are required to sign a "statement of faith," in which workers agree that the planet is only 6,000 years old.
The truly amazing part, as Simon Brown reported this week, is not just that Ark Encounter's management wants to discriminate in hiring based on applicants' religious beliefs, even while receiving tax incentives from the state. Just as striking is the fact that Ark Encounter's owners have suggested they have a First Amendment right to receive the financial assistance.
Indeed, Reuters' report noted that Ark Encounter's executive president, Mike Zovath, "said that if tax incentives for the project are withdrawn because it does not give written assurances the state now seeks, it would violate the organization's First Amendment and state constitutional rights."
This would be a very tough sell in court. The religious theme park is not entitled to tax subsidies under the Constitution, and if it expects financial support from the people of Kentucky, it's hardly outrageous for the state to insist that attraction agree not to discriminate against those same Kentucky taxpayers.
Brown added that if Answers in Genesis "has a problem with that policy, it doesn't have to take Kentucky's $18 million and it can build the ark itself. Really, that should have been the case all along."
Also from the God Machine this week: