[UPDATE: 1/26/2016 – A federal judge has ruled in favor of Ark Encounter that the denial of tax incentives violates religious free exercise rights under the First Amendment.]
Kentucky tourism officials are in a tough spot when it comes to the Ark Encounter theme park’s request for tax incentives. Granting the request, the state determined, would violate laws prohibiting religious discrimination in hiring by organizations receiving government funding. Kentucky likely may have faced a legal challenge for that decision.
So they rejected the request. Now the state faces a lawsuit for that decision. The group behind Ark Encounter announced a lawsuit would be filed this week on religious discrimination grounds.
USA Today reports:
Tourism officials in December denied tax incentives worth roughly $18 million for the Ark Encounter — a biblical theme park to include a 510-foot-long wooden ship — over concerns that it had evolved from a tourist attraction to an effort to advance a religion and that developers planned to discriminate in hiring based on religion.
Answers in Genesis, the group behind the plan, said in a statement that the decision “by Kentucky officials, including Gov. Steve Beshear, violates federal and state law” and amounted to discrimination. A lawyer for the group said it plans to file the suit in U.S. District Court on Thursday.
When you accept government funding, the money often does and should come with certain strings attached. Those rules protect the taxpayer and enforce important principles of equality. Religious organizations are free to discriminate based upon religion in hiring, but should not be able to do so with government funds.