5 Things You Should Know About Ken Ham’s Ark Encounter

The park has sparked debate over what constitutes a violation of church and state separation.

The Ark Encounter is a planned theme park in Kentucky that will showcase the story of Noah’s Ark. The park is being built by Ken Ham, creationist and founder of The Creation Museum and Answers in Genesis, a ministry devoted to spreading the gospel of young-earth creationism.

In July of 2014 the theme park applied for a special 18 million dollar tourism tax incentive and was granted preliminary approval. But due to hiring practices that required potential employees to sign a statement of faith, secular groups sprung into action, sparking a heated debate between secular activists and religious fundamentalists on what constitutes a violation of church and state separation.

Wherever you stand on this issue, you should know these five things about Ham’s Ark Encounter.

1. The Ark Encounter is not a non-profit religious organization.

Answers in Genesis is a religious non-profit organization, as is the Creation Museum. Those organizations are free to hire employees who only share their same faith and worldview.

However, the Ark Encounter is for-profit, a status that allows it to take advantage of state and federal tax benefits. That means following all federal and state laws, including hiring practices. But the company’s first job listing held candidates to the same statement of faith as the non-profit organization.

That is what first motivated Americans United for the Separation of Church and State to contact the Kentucky governor and request that tax incentives be denied. The governor, along with the Kentucky Tourism Board, found that The Ark Encounter was in clear violation of the law. As Tourism Secretary Bob Stewart wrote in a letter to the organization’s lawyers, “The use of state incentives in this way violates the separation of church and state provisions of the Constitution and is therefore impermissible.”

Ham denies any wrongdoing and told me during a radio interview that no discrimination is taking place. When I presented him with the evidence of discrimination, the show’s host hung up on me.

2. Secularists do not want to shut down the park.

Sure, I would love to see the park never be built. I believe it is a huge waste of natural resources and will perpetuate the myth that the events surrounding the Genesis flood actually happened.

Yet, the goal here is just to hold Ham’s organization accountable to all legal standards. AiG’s employees are welcome to believe anything they please, but if they are going to operate as a for-profit corporation, they must abide by federal laws.

3. Employee discrimination is not protected under the First Amendment.

When the news broke that the Ark Encounter was in danger of losing its tax incentive, AiG’s executive president Mike Zovath said that if the state rejected their application, it would “violate the organization’s First Amendment and state constitutional rights.”

But the solution would have been simple for AiG: follow all applicable state and federal laws, and the state would have pushed your application through. Not a single constitutional right was violated.

4. It is not only atheists who oppose the tax incentive.

Contrary to AIG’s claims that atheists are attacking it, it’s not only atheists who are trying to stop this park. Reverend Barry Lynn, the head of Americans United, also opposes the tax incentives. Reverend Lynn opposes the park because it violates church and state separation laws, and he believes “taxpayers should never be forced to support a religious ministry.”

I have also spoken with many Christians who do not believe in the flood story and who likely do not want to see tax dollars wasted on religious theme parks and proselytizing.

Ham’s sect of Christianity is a minority in the U.S., and while a high percentage of Americans still reject the theory of evolution, far fewer subscribe to Ham’s 100 percent biblical literalism model. Even politicians inside his own state who applaud the creation of such a park are not coming to the aid of the project.

5. Atheist opposition to the park is not anti-Christian.

While Ham sometimes addresses Christian denominations that oppose his work — usually by calling them non-Christian — he tends to focus on atheist opposition. He does this by claiming that opposition from the atheists is not because of the tax breaks, but solely against the Christian message.

I can speak from personal experience — Ham has accused me of being anti-Christian because I oppose the park’s tax incentive plan. As I have explained to Ham on more than one occasion, our opposition is not because of his religion; it is solely because of his discriminatory practices towards employees that are in clear state and federal violation.

I suspect Ham knows that hateful opposition drives donations. If he can say that religion is under attack, he can drum up financial support from donors.

People who oppose the park are not concerned here with how silly the Great Flood story is as a historical or scientific matter. We support people’s rights to believe as they choose, but they must follow the law when doing so.

Image courtesy of Shutterstock.

Dan Arel
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  • robin

    “When I presented him with the evidence of discrimination, the show’s host hung up on me.” Just, wow, really?

    • Bill

      Not true. And Barry Lynn is no more a Christian than the atheist that wrote this article.

      • Ernest Grouns

        What makes you think the writer is an atheist? That sort of all or nothing mentality is destructive.

        • http://www.danarel.com/ Dan Arel

          While I am an atheist, and proud, I didn’t make mention of it in the article because it is not relevant. The cause against the tax incentives has nothing to do with the existence of God, it has to do only with the legality of such business practices.

          Bill here is just angry that his beliefs are not given special treatment, but someone like him tends to want to deny those same privileges to beliefs he holds to not be true. I cannot speak for Bill, but I can speak from years of experience.

          • Adam

            Perhaps your pride is the reason you are an atheist….

          • ron_goodman

            What? And my pride is causing me not to believe in Santa Claus, I suppose.

          • http://www.danarel.com/ Dan Arel

            no, science is reason for my atheism.

          • Esquilax

            And perhaps your gall bladder is the reason you’re a christian. Are there any other complete non-sequiturs about people you know nothing about you’d like to throw out there? Do personal boundaries mean nothing to you?

          • ML Kyte

            I’m an Atheist because I actually read the Bible. Repulsive book.

      • http://www.danarel.com/ Dan Arel

        Not true? You can listen to the entire recording yourself. The second I asked Ken why he was discriminating the host hung up the phone and told me I needed to do more research.

        And you can question the faith of Barry Lynn? You may want to look up your logical fallacies. You’re clueless.

      • islandbrewer

        You mean the Reverend Barry Lynn, the ordained UCC minister, is not a christian? Uh huh. Is this going to be one of those “No True Christian” arguments?

        • Bill

          UCC is not a Biblical church. Google is your friend….

          • islandbrewer

            And I suppose only members of “biblical churches” are True Christians™ in your opinion? Thank you for demonstrating the No True Scotsman fallacy so perfectly!

          • Bill

            The word “Christian” in short means a follower of Christ. Use your head…

          • islandbrewer

            Surely one can consider oneself a follower of christ and still think that the bible is not entirely the word of god, as to which the existence of many “non-biblical” christian churches attests. You’re still using a No True Scotsman fallacy.

            Presuming you are unacquainted with the first rule of holes, please feel free to dig deeper!

    • http://www.danarel.com/ Dan Arel

      Yes, I first asked him why he needed tax money and he avoided the question so I went for discrimination and he denied that the park was even hiring and then click. At that point we took the argument to twitter and I documented the whole thing on my blog.

  • http://www.barelli.biz jbarelli

    The problem with point number four is that in the eyes of many fundamentalists, “atheist” is defined as anyone that does not believe exactly as they do. Simply believing that the stories in Genesis are parables and legends, meant as teaching tools rather than literal history is enough for many of them to apply the label “atheist”. So, by their reasoning, the majority of Christians are atheists. (Of course, that doesn’t apply to the Pope, even though the Roman Catholic church doesn’t believe Genesis is a literal history. From their perspective, he’s not an atheist. He’s the antichrist.)

    • Martin Hughes

      Of course if you defined ‘atheist’ in that fashion it would follow that there was a large ‘atheist’ majority, much weakening the case for taxpayer support of an ‘anti-atheist’ project.

      • http://www.danarel.com/ Dan Arel

        jbarelli is right though. Look at someone like Kirk Cameron who identifies as a former or “recovering” atheist. The thing is though, he never didnt believe in God, he just thinks before he believed in God wrong. So since we thought he was doing it wrong in the past, he must have been an atheist…

    • TheSootyOne

      The problem with considering Genesis as parables and legends, Original Sin goes out the door (let’s ignore genetics and DNA for now) as does the reason for Jesus to have been sacrificed (except that dying then going to heaven is more of an inconvenience than a sacrifice).

      I’d also suspect that most Christians that use the word ‘atheist’ really mean ‘sin-committing devil worshippers’ but I digress …

    • Vineeth Philip

      the things about definitions is that that they are true as long as they are internally consistent (do not contain any contradictory) and people can agree on them, when people have different definitions and don’t agree on one definition to use then its impossible to hold any meaningful discussion/debate

  • http://mindprod.com roedygreen

    Ham is not big on logic, but surely even he understands he is effectively claiming one or more of the laws he refuses to comply with to get his status is unconstitutional. The remedy for him is a constitutional challenge, not pretending to be singled out for victimisation.

    I think he will not get anywhere. He is under the delusion that the constitution gives him the right to discriminate against others in hiring using religion as a criteria.

    Why does the law block him?

    You might say it would be a nice thing for him if he could surround himself only by people of his particular cult. It’s his company after all. The law says instead, he must surround himself with BETTER qualified people, chosen without regard to religion. It could well be that tour guides need to be familiar with many bible stories, but discriminating on that knowledge is not the same as discrimination based on religion, though the two may be correlated.

    On the other hand, when workers are recipients of this religious discrimination, they are improperly having their arms twisted to convert to Ham’s cult, or go on the dole. Both are unpleasant.

    Non-discrimination law favouring the worker is thus preferable both in the number of people harmed and the degree of harm.

    If Ham were to acquire status, effectively everyone in the country would be to some extent subdising and supporting his behaviour, including those he discriminates against. He has no right to bite the hand that feeds him.

  • http://mindprod.com roedygreen

    Why does the government subsidise so many thing that are extremely optional? Why do we even consider funding theme parks when there are so many much more pressing things the government needs to do, like repair crumbling bridges and sewer systems or balancing the budget.

    I would guess most of it is either bids for votes of particular special interests and bribes illegal and Robertsian. I see no reason churches should get subsidies unless they are providing some service to the community, like a soup kitchen, thrift store, recreation center… and even then the subsidy should be just for that service, not the entire edifice.

    • Menelion

      NO religious organisations should get tax breaks in ANY state or country – and that includes charities. If they care about society and their fellows so much then they should pay their share like the rest of us. The logic that follows on from this is that those of religious persuasion should pay no taxes for services that get spent on people of different belief systems – where does this BS end????

      Taxes are part of the contract between individuals, social constructs (religions, businesses, people etc) and government. If the Ark, a loony creationist museum or a science park or ANY organisation or individual or business etc want roads and a sewer system for the toliets or infrastructure etc for their customers/patrons/members then they should pay their taxes – period!

    • http://www.danarel.com/ Dan Arel

      The reason they give these tax incentives is to help bring in big businesses that will bring in millions of tourists. The Kentucky NASCAR racetrack was awarded the same type of tax incentive because they knew the NASCAR crowed would bring them in millions of extra dollars in hotel, food, gas, etc. So in a sense it is a good idea to encourage business.

      Ham believes his park will bring in billions and the state believed him, thats all fine and dandy (stupid, but okay…) but Ham failed to follow the law and that ended up being his downfall.

      • Ann Kah

        I thought the legislature caved quite readily. They seemed to be happy to have any excuse to cancel that tax break, perhaps because they had morning-after regrets, with visions of the whole project “sinking without a trace”. And the sight of Ham foaming at the mouth reinforces my thought that he wrote that money into his plans long before he had it in hand, in spite of it being planned as a later rebate.

  • Menelion

    Well….all you are doing is correct and perfectly legal whether you are of a religious persuasion or of no persuasion. The man is clearly a bigot and a rather unpleasant and greedy lunatic (as are his ideas).
    I AM actually anti-christian and anti-religious as a whole, but loonies are legally free to believe what they like as long as they leave me alone, and I am also free to mock them for what they are – i.e. mentally deficient and macrosocially evil! :).

    GL with the campaign btw!!

  • Ian

    This is pretty disingenuous.

    I have explained to Ham on more than one occasion, our opposition is not because of his religion; it is solely because of his discriminatory practices towards employees that are in clear state and federal violation.

    You’ve been opposing the Ark Park and the Creation Museum for far longer than this discrimination issue has been on the cards, Dan. To claim your opposition is “solely” because of that is just a lie, as far as I can see, and the kind of weasly tactic that is unhelpful on all sides.

    At the very least, the employment discrimination issue is a convenient route to opposing the state support of his enterprise.

    But really, I’ve dramatically misread (and underestimated) you if you’re opposition to Ham does not originally arise from opposing his assault on education, science and modernity.

    • http://www.danarel.com/ Dan Arel

      Really? Do you have proof of this? The very first time I even mentioned this was when he was granted the 18 million and I said I thought it was bad for tax payers, but did nothing to oppose it and even asked Ken if he would be following ALL federal and state laws and he said yes. Less than a week later, he posted the job opening and that is when I went on the attack to remove the tax incentive.

      • Ian

        You really want to double down on this? You’re primarily a crusader against discriminatory employment practices are you? This is how you see yourself and define yourself?

        The idea that you are “solely” opposed to Ham because of his discriminatory employment practices is laughable.

        Come off the high horse and be honest. It does our side no good to be like that. You just look like a BS merchant – willing to say whatever it takes to make yourself look good “Oh, no, for me this is *all* about constitutional propriety.”

        If that is the case, if you genuinely aren’t concerned with Ham and his cronies assault on children, education, science, progress and enlightenment values, perpetrated via the power he has accumulated as a religious figure, then I’ve clearly overestimated you.

        • Guest

          “You’re primarily a crusader against discriminatory employment practices are you?”

          Do I have to primarily a crusader to care? I do in fact protest, petition, lobby and donate to causes that fight employee discrimination. I am a card carrying member of the Democratic Socialists of America and employment equality is a major cause of the organization.

          So it is it my primary cause? No, but is it one that gets my time and money? It sure is. So perhaps you should understand who you are accusing a little better..

          “if you genuinely aren’t concerned with Ham and his cronies assault on children, education, science, progress and enlightenment values, perpetrated via the power he has accumulated as a religious figure, then I’ve clearly overestimated you.”

          This is a pathetic argument. I oppose the Ark being built, in fact, it says so right in the article you clearly didn’t read, “Sure, I would love to see the park never be built. I believe it is a huge waste of natural resources and will perpetuate the myth that the events surrounding the Genesis flood actually happened.”

          But just like I opposed the Creation Museum being built, I took no legal action to stop it. They have every right to build these idiotic things. I will only oppose when they try to use taxpayer money illegally for such projects.

          My care for children’s education does not hinder on these things being built, I would rather educate people to not bother going, or to go with a critical eye. You don’t squash these myths by closing their doors, you squash them through better science education.

          You clearly are clueless as to who you are dealing with and my activism tactics and strategy.

          Be careful not to fall of that high horse…

        • http://www.danarel.com/ Dan Arel

          “You’re primarily a crusader against discriminatory employment practices are you?”

          Do I have to be a primarily a crusader to care? I do in fact protest, petition, lobby and donate to causes that fight employee discrimination. I am a card carrying member of the Democratic Socialists of America and employment equality is a major cause of the organization.

          So it is it my primary cause? No, but is it one that gets my time and money? It sure is. So perhaps you should understand who you are accusing a little better..

          “if you genuinely aren’t concerned with Ham and his cronies assault on children, education, science, progress and enlightenment values, perpetrated via the power he has accumulated as a religious figure, then I’ve clearly overestimated you.”

          This is a pathetic argument. I oppose the Ark being built, in fact, it says so right in the article you clearly didn’t read, “Sure, I would love to see the park never be built. I believe it is a huge waste of natural resources and will perpetuate the myth that the events surrounding the Genesis flood actually happened.”

          But just like I opposed the Creation Museum being built, I took no legal action to stop it. They have every right to build these idiotic things. I will only oppose when they try to use taxpayer money illegally for such projects.

          My care for children’s education does not hinder on these things being built, I would rather educate people to not bother going, or to go with a critical eye. You don’t squash these myths by closing their doors, you squash them through better science education.

          You clearly are clueless as to who you are dealing with and my activism tactics and strategy.

          Be careful not to fall of that high horse…

          • Ian

            Oh food goodness sake.

            So it is it my primary cause? No,

            Quite, much less your “sole” objection. In fact, take a stroll back through your posting history. Aside from the overlap in Ken Ham, how many posts do you write about creationism and science denial, and how many about employment discrimination?

            But just like I opposed the Creation Museum being built

            Quite, and that opposition was not “solely” for employment discrimination reasons.

            You clearly are clueless as to who you are dealing with and my activism tactics and strategy.

            I think I’m pretty dead on, so far.

            Be careful not to fall of that high horse…

            My sins are numerous, I could list them at length. Basic honesty about motive is not a particularly high horse, nor a high bar, I think, despite how difficult it seems to get over.

            perhaps you should understand who you are accusing a little better..

            Sorry to say I am.

          • Ken

            Ian –

            I was previously unfamiliar with Dan’s writing, and found nothing disingenuous about it. With the rule of law on his side, why should it matter whether or not he agrees with Ham’s ideology? The “sole opposition” detailed here is a legal one.

          • Ian

            No atheist ends up with Ham as their personal project because of a concern that he is breaking employment law.

            It may be that employment law is the area in which his arrogance and entitlement has caused Ham to flout the law, and therefore the area in which he can be opposed by direct legal means. But it is disingenuous to claim that the opposition arose or is motivated by concern for the employees of Kentucky.

            We oppose the park, and the creation museum on strong ideological grounds. Atheists, secularists, other Christians, and people with a wide range of other religious affiliations see your campaign of lies and misinformation as hurting children, scientific progress, and our culture more widely. So you bet we’re going to campaign against Ham in public opinion, campaign against the state providing help to build or run his ministry, and look for ways in which we can legally make it difficult for him to cause more damage.

            I didn’t get that sense from this piece (which may, of course, have been my misunderstanding of it). Instead it smelled like the bullshit you see from people who suddenly become zealots for a cause when that looks like a promising way to score points.

            Like the Obama haters who are zealously concerned with operational security and the military covenant in the wake of the fatalities in Benghazi.

            There’s this general fakery around wanting to seem so reasonable and procedural and not ideologically motivated. It is bullshit. The vast, vast majority of people crowing over Benghazi are doing it because they dislike the president. The vast, vast majority of people crowing over Hobby Lobby’s right to limit contraception to employees are doing so because they see it as part of their crusade against abortion and sexual liberalization generally. And the vast, vast majority of people making legal hay over Ham’s employment practices are doing so because we oppose creationism and the dogmatic structures behind it. Being honest about that isn’t too much to ask for, I think. It seemed in this piece, in the section I quoted, Dan was deliberately trying to deny that. And I simply don’t buy it.

          • bakabomb

            “Instead it smelled like the bullshit you see from people who suddenly become zealots for a cause”

            Well, that statement seems to apply equally aptly to Ham (except for the “sudden” part, but persistence is nothing to tout when one’s purveying bovine fecality).

            Still, I guess nobody can dispute that the smell of manure must’ve permeated the Ark as well — unless God miraculously halted the animals’ peristalsis for the duration.

  • joe

    Wow this conversation is starting off in another universe. Atheist are people who dont believe in exactly what they do??? Atheist dont have a belief no 1. Also, why do Atheist care so much? Are they really trying. To make the world a better place when doing so is a contradiction to their worldview. Wgen talking about atheist beliefs, lets talk about what they actually believe I instead if how much we hate a theme park. Libtards.

    • Esquilax

      Based on what you think atheist beliefs are, I don’t think you actually know anything about atheists. We have beliefs, making the world better is not a contradiction to our worldview, and we care about this because breaking the law is bad, no matter who does it. Why would you think otherwise on any of these points?

      • ZZ

        His use of the word libtard shows idiocy and a lack of general education on his part, I wouldn’t even bother arguing with him as you may lose some intelligence in the process. His next argument will no doubt be calling people luck us sheep because we don’t follow the same ideas as him. The funniest thing is joe will not get the irony of the statement. Gotta love them conservative Christians.

        • bakabomb

          Based on his reliance on the lame term “libtard”, I suspect his term would more likely be the equally lame one “sheeple”.

  • ML Kyte

    According to a literal interpretation of the Bible, Ken Ham should be able to pray, and have all the money he needs given to him by The LORD. He must not belive those parts of the Bible.

  • bakabomb

    The law is abundantly clear on this matter, and wishing it weren’t isn’t gonna do a doggone thing for Mr. Ham. If he elects to try defending this in any court of law — even in Kentucky — he’ll fall farther than Humpty Dumpty and the outcome will be identical. He hasn’t a legal leg on which to stand.