Quick Takes

Mike Johnson defended Noah’s Ark attraction in Kentucky before becoming U.S. House speaker

By: - October 26, 2023 9:37 am

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 C​​EO 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.

Johnson appeared in a 24-minute video with Ken Ham, founder and CEO of Answers in Genesis, talking about his work and the lawsuit against Kentucky.

U.S. Rep. Andy Barr of Kentucky, right, congratulates the new House speaker, Rep. Mike Johnson of Louisiana, at the U.S. Capitol on Oct. 25, 2023 in Washington, D.C. (Win McNamee/Getty Images)

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.

The state has put millions of dollars into road construction to improve access to the Ark, which opened in 2016.

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Jamie Lucke
Jamie Lucke

Jamie Lucke has more than 40 years of experience as a journalist. Her editorials for the Lexington Herald-Leader won Walker Stone, Sigma Delta Chi and Green Eyeshade awards. She is a graduate of the University of Kentucky.