For a man who constantly touts his plans to build a creationist empire in the United States, Ken Ham is surprisingly bad at his job. The professional charlatan’s greatest success, his mind-boggling Creation Museum, faces a serious decline in attendance. His next boondoggle, a Noah’s Ark–themed creationist amusement park, was so woefully underfunded that Ham began selling junk bonds to keep it from going under. Initial construction on the dramatically scaled-back “ark park” is barely underway. And now Ham has already run into legal trouble. His utterly predictable offense? Using taxpayer money to discriminate on the basis of religion.
That’s the intro a new piece in Slate by Mark Joseph Stern, chronicling the latest round of controversy surrounding creationist firebrand Ken Ham and his embattled Ark Encounter project. This past August, the park began a hiring campaign in order to start construction on the massive project. But raising a few eyebrows were some requirements that job applicants had to abide by: a “Salvation testimony,” “Creation belief statement,” and a “Confirmation of your agreement with the AiG statement of faith.” (AiG is Answers in Genesis, Ham’s ministry.)
The message is clear: If you want to work at the park, you MUST adopt as your belief system Ken Ham’s version of Christianity, i.e., creationism.
But the third requirement is far, far worse. AiG’s statement of faith is no mere loyalty oath: It’s a four-part theological declaration mandating that all signatories accept dozens of fundamentalist Christian principles. Employees at Ark Encounter don’t just have to believe in God; they have to believe in Christ, the Holy Spirit, Satan (as “the personal spiritual adversary of both God and mankind”), Adam and Eve, “the Great Flood of Genesis,” a 6,000-year-old Earth, and the eternal damnation of “those who do not believe in Christ.” All employees must follow “the duty of Christians” and attend “a local Bible believing church.” Just for good measure, employees must oppose abortion, euthanasia, gay rights, and trans rights.
Were Ark Encounter merely a ministry, the First Amendment would protect its discriminatory employment practices. If it were a privately funded company with an explicitly religious purpose, the law might still permit it to hire based on its prejudices. But Ark Encounter isn’t privately funded; the citizens of Kentucky have been roped into paying for it, whether they like it or not. Earlier this year, Kentucky’s Tourism Development Finance Authority gave preliminary support for $18.25 million in tax credits for Ark Encounter, citing Ham’s promise that the project would create 600 to 700 jobs. And that’s just for the first phase of construction; ultimately, the state could grant Ark Encounter up to $73 million in tax breaks.
Now the state of Kentucky has taken notice. In letter to Governor Steve Beshear, the Americans United for Separation of Church and State point to Section 5 of the Kentucky Constitution, which states that government may not show preference to “any religious sect, society, or denomination” over another. In short, if you create jobs in Kentucky and declare those jobs are only available to Bible-believing Christians, you’re breaking the law. But this exactly what the state of Kentucky has done by funding Ham’s project with taxpayer money.
In an encouraging move from a red state, the Kentucky Tourism, Arts and Heritage Cabinet immediately stopped funds from flowing to the project when the Ark Encounter employment application came to light. In a letter to Ham, Cabinet Secretary Bob Stewart wrote that “the Commonwealth does not provide incentives to any company that discriminates on the basis of religion and we will not make any exception for Ark Encounter, LLC,” going on to say that “the Commonwealth must have the express written assurance from Ark Encounter, LLC that it will not discriminate in any way on the basis of religion in hiring” before any funds could be reinstated.
In a brash and legally baffling move, Ark Encounter decided to fight back. Mike Zovath, Ark Encounter’s executive director, told reporters that Kentucky was “requiring us to give up our religious freedom and our religious rights,” and denied the validity of the state’s concerns. Given that the tax credits are still subject to final approval—and that approval is contingent upon Ark Encounter not breaking the law—one might expect Ham and his cohorts to simply comply with the state constitution. But they seem committed to the belief that their religious freedom gives them a right to take state funds with one hand and push away non-Christians with the other.
One voice has been conspicuously absent from the debate over Ark Encounter’s intolerance: that of Christian conservatives. They have spent the past several years loudly and unceasingly condemning what they view as discrimination on the basis of religion. An anti-gay CEO voluntarily resigns from a private corporation following public pressure? Religious discrimination. An anti-gay Christian college group loses state funding for refusing to accept those who don’t follow its creed? Religious discrimination. A financial firm sends out a diversity survey to its employees that mentions sexual orientation? Religious discrimination. Some conservatives have even argued that the marriage equality movement turned America into a “totalitarian system” where animosity toward religion is mandatory.
The incredible irony here is that in all of these examples, no “religious discrimination” occurred. But smack dab in the middle of Ken Ham’s fundamentalist Christian empire, the true definition of religious discrimination is being implemented in the most blatant and open manner possible – all while living off the fuel of taxpayer money.
Read the entire Slate piece by Mark Joseph Stern here.