Ark Encounter, the Kentucky theme park featuring a 510-foot model of Noah’s Ark, is scheduled to open on July 7th, which means that park leadership have been busy filling the nearly 400 employment positions on the Ark Encounter team. But not everyone is welcome to apply—the park requires all employees to sign a “Statement of Faith” that disavows same-sex relations, same-sex marriage, and pre-marital sex.
The increase in local employment opportunities is one reason why the park was originally considered for an $18 million tourism subsidy from the Commonwealth of Kentucky. But once state officials learned from Americans United that Ark Encounter would operate as a religious ministry—serving as an evangelistic tool to sway visitors to the park leadership’s Christian faith—and that park leadership intended to discriminate on the basis of religion when hiring, they revoked that state funding.
Ark Encounter responded with a lawsuit, arguing that Kentucky officials had violated the First Amendment by refusing to provide state funding to the Ark Encounter ministry.
Religious organizations, however, are not constitutionally entitled to public funding. In fact, forcing taxpayers to support religious organizations with which they disagree is itself a religious-liberty violation, which the Establishment Clause was meant to prohibit—an argument that Americans United made in the amicus brief we filed with the court in this case.
But in a startling ruling, the trial judge ruled in favor of Ark Encounter. Although he was entitled to appeal this decision, Kentucky’s new governor, Matt Bevin, reversed the Commonwealth’s position and awarded $18 million in tax breaks to the park. That left Kentucky’s taxpayers with no choice but to foot the bill for a religious ministry.
Now Ark Encounter is scheduled shortly to open, and it is doing exactly what it said it would: engage in employment discrimination. And thanks to Governor Bevin, Ark Encounter is discriminating against LGBTQ and unmarried persons with the help of public money.