“State tourism tax incentives cannot be used to fund religious indoctrination or otherwise be used to advance religion,” Tourism Secretary Bob Stewart wrote, according to the Louisville Courier-Journal. “The use of state incentives in this way violates the separation of church and state provisions of the Constitution and is therefore impermissible.”
Answers in Genesis, a 30-year old creationist ministry, originally announced the Ark Experience theme park in December 2010, to be built in Grant County, about halfway between Louisville and Cincinnati. Its centerpiece will be a full-scale version of Noah’s Ark, built to the specifications laid out in Genesis chapter 6. The $172 million project broke ground earlier this year after about four years of delays.
The month it announced the new park, Answers in Genesis filed for a state tax incentive program that would have allowed it to keep a quarter of the sales tax it collected for 10 years.
The Kentucky Tourism Development Finance Authority gave its preliminary authorization for the park to receive tax breaks in July, contingent on the group’s promise it would not discriminate on the basis of religion. But Stewart’s decision to withhold his authorization effectively kills the tax break.
In his own statement, Gov. Steve Beshear (D) said he worried the park would use a “litmus test” for hiring staff. He pointed to AIG’s earlier statement that the park would be built regardless of whether it received state tax breaks.
But the theme park isn’t about to let its tax breaks go without a fight. In a letter to the Tourism office, AIG attorney James Parsons said imposing a requirement that the park conduct its hiring without considering religion “will amount to unconstitutional viewpoint discrimination.”
Parsons said AIG is likely to sue over the decision.