“Biblical history is key to understanding dinosaurs.” So reads a sign at the Creation Museum in Petersburg, Kentucky. Sponsored by Answers in Genesis, a Christian apologetics ministry, photos of the museum went viral because of its religious rewriting of the Earth’s natural history. It wasn’t the last attraction the ministry sponsored, though. AiG is currently planning a Noah’s Ark theme park, because why not? That sounds perfectly innocent, but U.S. Federal Judge Gregory Tatenhove, nominated by George W. Bush for a seat in the U.S. District for the Eastern District of Kentucky, recently ruled that the group was eligible for what could be millions of dollars in tax incentives for the new theme park after the state had previously denied the group these incentives. This money would come from the Kentucky Tourism Development Incentive Program, a government program that gives rebates in sales tax to businesses that will increase tourism. While it’s true that no taxpayer money will be going directly towards building the ark, the tax incentives, rather than being distributed to properties and programs open to any member of the community, will be used to repay the debt AiG incurs for building the ark.
As bad as that is, AiG intends to hire only Christians to staff the park. Federal law does allow religious discrimination in employment as long as the company’s purpose is exclusively connected with a particular religion. In this case, the theme park’s purpose is to educate visitors on the Christian story of Noah, one that somehow includes the presence of dinosaurs in their interpretation. But should the state government really help fund a project that both promotes a certain religion and excludes a considerable percentage of people from employment? Even if you don’t find that compelling, Section 5 of the Kentucky State Constitution states, “No preference shall ever be given by law to any religious sect, society or denomination; nor to any particular creed, mode of worship or system of ecclesiastical polity; nor shall any person be compelled to attend any place of worship, to contribute to the erection or maintenance of any such place.” It could easily be argued that the allocation of public funds to a religious attraction contradicts the state’s constitution.
Further, AiG is an extremely conservative ministry. Conservative rhetoric as of late has conjectured that requiring employers pay for insurance that covers birth control under the Affordable Care Act is a violation of religious (specifically Christian) liberty because it goes against religious employers’ beliefs. Yet, AiG has no problem using public funds to maintain a property built for religious purposes when the message and teachings promoted on that property likely contradict the beliefs of a large portion of Kentucky residents. It seems like religious conservatives like AiG are only against infringements on their own religious beliefs. Meanwhile, it seems these religious conservatives are perfectly happy to impede the religious freedom of others.
Withholding these funds would not be violating the group’s first amendment rights, which protect the freedom to practice religion. They would not be saying that AiG couldn’t build the theme park. The government would only be asserting that it would not offer aid to any attraction that was built for expressly religious purposes. The government would only be discriminating if they denied AiG these funds and then gave them to another religious group’s developments. The bottom line is that the government should uphold the separation of church and state and deny AiG these government subsidies. Damningly, despite vehement opposition from certain federal government officials and the public the state court has no plans to appeal Tatenhove’s ruling.