The Ark Encounter is seen July 5, 2016 in Williamstown, Kentucky. The Ark Encounter is a theme park centered around a 510 foot long reproduction of Noah’s Ark. (Photo by Aaron P. Bernstein/Getty Images)
New U.S. House Speaker Mike Johnson successfully took Kentucky to court to regain tax incentives for the Ark Encounter, a 510-foot wooden replica of the biblical Noah’s Ark located off Interstate 75 in Grant County.
The state tourism cabinet had awarded the project a sales-tax rebate worth up to $18 million, but Gov. Steve Beshear’s administration withdrew the offer in 2014, saying the Ark’s builders, Answers in Genesis, had changed the project’s mission from tourist attraction to religious ministry.
The state cited website postings and statements at investors meetings to support its decision.
Johnson, a member of the Louisiana legislature at the time, was CEO and chief counsel of Freedom Guard, a public interest law firm in Louisiana that he founded. Freedom Guard represented Answers In Genesis in challenging the state’s denial of incentives.
U.S. District Judge Gregory Van Tatenhove in 2016 ruled in favor of Answers in Genesis, saying the state’s exclusion of the ark from the tourism tax incentive based on its “religious purpose and message” violated the First Amendment.
Johnson was quoted at the time as saying: “The court has affirmed a longstanding principle that the Constitution does not permit a state to show hostility towards religion. The First Amendment does not allow Christian organizations to be treated like second-class citizens merely because of what they believe.”
WDRB reported earlier this year that Kentucky had agreed to pay Answers in Genesis $190,000 in legal fees in connection with the case.
Answers in Genesis describes itself as an apologetics Christian ministry, meaning it uses science to defend a literal interpretation of the Bible. Ham also founded the Creation Museum in Petersburg which teaches the Earth is 6,000 years old.
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