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Noah's Ark Theme Park Can Hire Based on Religious Beliefs, Judge Rules

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By Ephrat Livni, Esq. on January 27, 2016 12:59 PM

In a battle between two important American principles -- religious freedom and separation of church and state -- our prime directive prevailed. A Kentucky judge concluded this week that a religious theme park cannot be denied government tax incentives if it restricts hiring to fundamentalist Christians because the Noah's Ark park serves a plainly secular purpose -- profit.

Answers In Genesis, "a non-denominational group, which believes in creationism and runs the Creation Museum," sued Kentucky when it withdrew tax incentives for fear the park would hire only fundamentalist Christians, according to Reuters. But U.S. District Judge Gregory Van Tatenhove wrote in an opinion issued Monday that while the group is "clearly a religious organization," religious tourist destinations nonetheless serve the state's "secular" goal of increasing local revenue.

Plainly Secular Purpose

Answers In Genesis is planning a Noah's Ark theme park around a 510-foot replica of the biblical ark, and the project has reportedly been controversial. The replica will be used to tell the biblical tale of Noah who, as the story in the Old Testament goes, built an ark and took two of each kind of animal on it while God flooded the world.

Developers argued that the tax incentives denied by the state will help to fund other projects that would, similarly, tell bible stories. The ark project has cost $92 million and the park is expected to open in July.

Judge Tatenhove wrote in his opinion released Monday, "Bringing non-residents into Kentucky who will spend money on food, lodging, gas, and tourist attractions will increase revenues and benefit the state's economy through jobs and spending. Such a purpose is plainly secular."

Answers In Genesis Reacts

Answers In Genesis was pleased with Judge Tatenhove's decision, calling it a victory for the free exercise of religion in this country . "The law is crystal clear that the state cannot discriminate against a Christian group simply because of its viewpoint, but that is precisely what happened here," the group's president, Ken Ham, said in a statement.

Suspicious Timing?

Kentucky's new governor, Matt Bevin, said to have been elected with the strong support of Christian conservatives, also expressed satisfaction with the outcome. His spokesperson, Jessica Ditto, told reporters, ""We are pleased the Court has ruled in favor of the Ark project. This Administration does not support discrimination against any worthy economic development projects."

Hiring Questions

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