The Evangelical Christian group behind a proposed park celebrating the Noah’s Ark myth from the Old Testament of the Christian Bible has launched a PR push involving billboards all over the state of Kentucky and in New York City’s Times Square.
According to the Louisville Courier-Journal, the creationist group Answers in Genesis will be posting 16 billboards across the state in an attempt to rebut critics of the park project — tentatively named Ark Encounter — who have complained about possible tax violations and religious discrimination.
“With this new billboard campaign, the attention-grabbing wording will get people to visit our website,” said Answers in Genesis president Ken Ham in a press release, “where they will discover the truth about our full-size Ark and learn how some intolerant people are trying to keep it from succeeding.”
The group’s plan for the Ark Encounter begins with a $73 million replica of the ark depicted in the Bible, which Noah built at God’s direction in order to save the animal species of the Earth from a cataclysmic flood.
In July, Kentucky’s state tourism board granted preliminary approval to a plan for the park. The board also voted to allow Ark Encounter to partake in a tax-incentive program that will permit the park to hold back a quarter of the taxes owed on its profits for the first decade that it operates in the state, an estimated $18 million.
In order to reap the benefits of the tax incentive program, however, Ark Encounter must comply with state and federal nondiscrimination laws and cannot demonstrate any religious bias in hiring, staffing or in accommodating park guests. Critics and some tourism board officials worry that the park won’t be able to meet those requirements due to its religious subject matter.
Tourism board member Gil Lawson told the Courier-Journal that no final decisions have been made about the park and that it is not an agenda item in any upcoming board meetings.
The group Americans United for the Separation of Church and State says that Answers in Genesis has made it clear that religious bias will determine the hiring eligibility of at least some staff. The park and accompanying museum’s message is explicitly Christian, they argue, and museum guides and docents will be required to spout Christian dogma presented as factual history to visitors.
“To the extent that they argue that as a religious organization they are entitled to discriminate in hiring, that only underscores the point that we’ve been making — that as a religious organization, they shouldn’t be receiving any state subsidies of any kind,” said Alex Luchenitser of Americans United.
Answers in Genesis contends that the tax break on its revenue will be generated voluntarily by people visiting the park and is therefore not the same as taxes average citizens. Furthermore, the group says, under state and federal law, religious groups are allowed to show preference in hiring decisions.
Ham says resistance to the museum is coming from liberal elites who don’t understand Kentucky. The billboards, he said, are aimed at dispelling “myths” that liberals have been spreading about the proposed park.
“These agitators — most of them outside the state — are trying to undermine the Ark Encounter by spreading misinformation and putting pressure on Kentucky officials,” he said on Monday.
In 2011, Answers in Genesis received approval from the state to build an ark and museum complex estimated to cost about $173 million. Financial troubles with the plan forced the group to scale back its ambitions and build the park in stages. The ark and visitors’ center would be phase one of three that the company intends to roll out slowly over the next several years.