Grifters Gotta Grift
Ken Ham, CEO of Answers in Genesis, is bringing a federal religious discrimination lawsuit against the state of Kentucky. It seems that the Commonwealth suddenly discovered that they were being grifted by an Elmer Gantry wannabe of the first order to the tune of $18M and they had enough and rescinded the tax breaks offer.
Answers in Genesis, the group seeking to build a Noah’s Ark theme park in Kentucky, said Tuesday it will file a federal discrimination lawsuit against the state for rejecting its application for tax incentives to help finance the park.
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.
And boy-howdy, did they ever plan to discriminate:
The overtly religious enterprise, dubbed the “Ark Park,” first sailed into stormy seas in August when AU informed the tourism cabinet that AiG had posted online an opening for a computer-assisted design technician to work at Ark Encounter.
That job post was later removed, but in the August description AiG said applicants must submit a “[c]reation belief statement,” as well as “[c]onfirmation of [their] agreement with the AiG Statement of Faith.” That “statement of faith” required potential AiG employees to affirm their belief that homosexuality is a sin on par with bestiality and incest, that the earth is only 6,000 years old and that the Bible is literally true. Anyone who doesn’t agree with those statements would not be considered for the job.
And while it is perfectly true that religious organizations can hire/fire whomever they want, they cannot discriminate with tax payer money. It’s pretty straightforward. Even Kentucky Governor Beshear, formerly a supporter of Ham’s scam, has thrown in the towel:
Beshear touted the park’s economic benefits as far back as 2010, but various delays have pushed back the park’s estimated opening many times. Answers in Genesis head Ham now says Ark Encounter will open in the spring of 2016, but some remain skeptical. Ham claimed ground has been broken for the Ark Park, but the actual level of progress made remains unknown.
For his part, Beshear supported the tourism cabinet’s decision not to award a massive tax rebate to the Ark Park.
“[I]t has become apparent that they do intend to use religious beliefs as a litmus test for hiring decisions,” the governor said in a December statement.
Interestingly, attention loving Ham, strip mall Ezekiel that he is, is not taking this setback lying down (or wherever it is that he lies). He decided to create a Special Victim’s video:
FYI, Mike Johnson is from the Louisiana-based religious right legal group Freedom Guard; Tony Perkins president of the Family Research Council sits on its board of directors. The Southern Poverty Law Center has designated the FRC as a hate-group, so it seems all the birds are home to roost.
Ham also has put up a billboard in New York City to plead his case, which seems like a silly waste of money from a group claiming that they need money.
“To all our intolerant liberal friends: Thank God you can’t sink this ship,” read AiG’s billboard, which was festooned with a large depiction of the ark. AiG also said it bought a 15-second digital video display that ran in New York City’s Times Square.
And they have already grifted the state for tens of millions of dollars:
The city of Williamstown agreed to a 75 percent break on property taxes for 30 years and a $62 million bond issue. The Grant County Industrial Development Authority gave the park $200,000 plus 100 acres of land at a reduced price. The state has promised $11 million in road improvements for the park’s benefit.
The state also agreed to provide $18 million in tourism tax credits, but withdrew the offer after it became clear that Ark Encounter jobs would go only to people who pass the group’s religious litmus test. You would think state officials could have seen that coming.
Here’s the deal: if they want to build a theme park to grift the rubes and god-botherers, they should go to town and raise the money themselves. The fact that they cannot raise a relatively small amount (after grifting millions of public dollars) sort of shows us that there is no public demand for this venue and that indeed it was always planned to be a ministry of some sort, and not a job-creating engine. Or, to put it more succinctly as the Lexington Herald-Leader did, Why does God need so much tax-payer help?
(Courier Journal, Lexington Herald-Leader, Americans United)
UPDATE: A day later and Charlie Pierce is now writing about Ham and the Ark. Sigh. And one of his commenters is using the Elmer Gantry line, too/also.