The largest newspaper in Kentucky (AiG’s home state) is the Courier-Journal of Louisville. Last week, AiG submitted a guest column to the paper with the intent of helping Kentuckians as well as AiG supporters across the country gain a better understanding of the issues surrounding the current struggle between AiG and the state over two major items:
- Hiring at our future Ark Encounter, and
- Determining how much of our Christian faith we are allowed to share when the theme park is open in 2016.
The op-ed below concentrated on the hiring of staff at the future theme park and the state sales tax incentive that is involved.
Religious Liberty and the Ark
By Mark Looy, CCO, Answers in Genesis/Ark Encounter
In addition to refuting the myth that tax dollars will be used to build our life-size Noah’s Ark in Williamstown, Kentucky, Answers in Genesis has had to spend considerable effort rebutting another myth: that it is illegal for the Ark Encounter to hire only people who can sign its statement of faith. Yet the state, in its letter to AiG last week (and simultaneously leaked to the press), is illegally denying the Ark the opportunity to benefit from the Tourism Development Act (TDA) due to hiring issues. Kentucky is demanding that AiG check its religious freedoms at the door if it is to receive TDA benefits.
It is interesting to note that the state and activist secular groups can point to no specific law or statute that would deny a religious organization like AiG or Ark Encounter the right to hire staff members who agree with its mission. Indeed, why should we give in to the state’s demand and give up our rights to hire people of faith? Nobody seems to want to force the group American Atheists to hire Christians (and we do not advocate it).
While the Ark Encounter (now under construction) has not yet determined its hiring policies, AiG points out the following:
- --It is well established in federal and state law that religious organizations are permitted to give employment preference to adherents of their own religion. Since the Ark Encounter is owned and operated by our Christian organization, it is allowed to avail itself of these provisions of law just as every other religious entity in Kentucky. Without this important exemption in the law, no church or religious organization would be able to maintain its identity or any consistency of message.
- --Supportive federal law includes Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. While the Act prohibits discrimination in hiring practices, it specifically carves out an exception for churches and religious organizations, which are permitted to give employment preference to followers of their own religion.
- --An example of federal case law in this regard includes a 1987 U.S. Supreme Court decision, which pointed out that the court has long recognized that the government may (and sometimes must) accommodate religious practices, and that it may do so without violating the Establishment Clause of the Constitution.
- --State law, in Kentucky Revised Statute Section 344.090, specifically provides: “[I]t is not unlawful practice for . . . a religious corporation, association, or society to employ an individual on the basis of his religion to perform work connected with the carrying on by such corporation, association, or society of its religious activity.”
- --Further, nowhere in the state’s TDA are there requirements that religious entities must agree to any special conditions to receive incentives.
The demand by the state to have the Ark Encounter surrender the hiring rights it has under state and federal law in order to benefit from the TDA—otherwise made available to all other qualifying parties—imposes a huge burden on the Ark Encounter’s freedom of religion and smacks of overt religious discrimination.
We have assured state officials many times that the Ark Encounter will follow all applicable federal and state laws in operating our theme park, and the state has no basis to demand otherwise.
To keep up to date with the progress of the construction of Ark Encounter, read refutations of other media myths about the project, and donate to this evangelistic project, go to ArkEncounter.com.