Kentucky's Tourism Arts & Heritage Cabinet Secretary Bob Stewart informed representatives of the proposed Ark Encounter tourist attraction today that their project will not be eligible for up to $18 million in tax incentives from the state, due to their refusal to pledge not to discriminate in hiring based on religion.
A creationist group called Answers in Genesis came up with a creative idea a few years ago: it would create a theme park called Ark Encounter, featuring a 510-foot reproduction of Noah's Ark at their Kentucky location.
As regular readers may recall, the creationists sought and received taxpayer support for the project, and state officials, in the name of boosting tourism, approved $18 million in tax subsidies to bolster Ark Encounter's finances.
The public backing didn't sit well with civil libertarians, but as is turns out, the issue has worked itself out -- the estimable Joe Sonka reported yesterday that the deal has fallen apart.
And this is the sticking point that derailed the tax incentives. The folks behind the Ark Encounter theme park wanted to receive financial support from the public, while also maintaining the ability to discriminate against the same taxpayers supporting the project. The creationists, in other words, wanted Kentucky's money, but not Kentucky's strings.
Indeed, as Sonka's report added, "On Monday, Ark Encounter's attorney sent a letter to [state tourism officials] flatly rejecting their demand to pledge in writing to not discriminate in hiring based on religion, saying they had every legal right to do so and still be eligible for state tax incentives." (All Ark Encounter employees are required to sign a “statement of faith,” in which workers agree, among other things, that the planet is only 6,000 years old.)
That didn't go over well. Indeed, Gov. Steve Beshear (D), who'd offered his support for the project in 2010, said in a statement, "We expect any entity that accepts state incentives not to discriminate on any basis in hiring."
The project will reportedly continue anyway, though it will now rely solely on private funding, which probably should have been the case from the outset.
Postscript: It's worth noting that we've been covering this story for four years now, with my colleague Laura Conaway first tackling the subject in December 2010. That same week, Rachel had a segment on the theme park -- the text over her shoulder read, "Oh Noah He Didn't."