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Protesters decry tax breaks for Ark park that hires only Christians

Protesters, supporters argue as Noah’s Ark park opens

A group of protesters and supporters clashed outside the Ark Encounter in Northern Kentucky as it opened to the public Thursday.
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A group of protesters and supporters clashed outside the Ark Encounter in Northern Kentucky as it opened to the public Thursday.

Larry Decker traveled from Washington, D.C. Thursday to stand for hours at a muddy Northern Kentucky interstate exit in heat and rain.

As the director of the Secular Coalition for America, he felt it was imperative that he make the trip to protest the opening of Ark Encounter.

For him, there are many reasons to counter what he calls the false messages of the Noah’s Ark theme park: Taxpayer dollars being used to fund a religious organization, discriminatory hiring practices, and the peddling of pseudo-science to children.

“We stand for secular values: Freedom, inclusion, equality and knowledge,” he said. “This ark doesn’t stand for any of those values.”

About 100 protesters spent the morning at the exit closest to the ark attraction, watched over by a cadre of police officers across the street.

Patrick Barnett didn’t have to drive as far, coming from Westchester, Ohio, but he felt just as strongly.

“This engenders anti-science attitudes,” he said. “You are limiting children’s futures by suggesting science is a conspiracy against them.”

Barnett said he worried that even public schools would make field trips to the ark. Kentucky Department of Education officials said Thursday that they are working on a directive to public school districts about Ark Encounter that should be ready next week. They declined to provide any further details.

Answers in Genesis researchers Georgia Purdom and Dr. Andrew Snelling recount the reactions they had seen from guests during opening day of the Noah's ark replica at Ark Encounter park in Williamstown on July 7th.

Ark Encounter has faced opposition since the idea was first floated as early as 2012. That’s when Americans United for Separation of Church and State first challenged the $2 million earmarked for an expanded I-75 interchange in Williamstown. That project has now grown to $11 million and was funded in this year’s state budget.

Americans United also protested numerous tax incentives offered by the city of Williamstown and Grant County, as well as $18 million in tourism sales tax rebates. The administration of Gov. Steve Beshear dropped those incentives after finding out that Ark Encounter would hire only devout Christians. Ark officials sued, and earlier this year a federal judge said that the incentive program itself was secular and could not be denied to a religious tourist attraction. Gov. Matt Bevin did not appeal that decision, saying he supports the tax incentives.

All employees at Ark Encounter must agree to the group’s Statement of Faith, which requires a doctrine of strict adherence to biblical scripture, including the belief that the world is 6,000 years old. It also prohibits premarital sex, opposes homosexuality, abortion, and requires regular attendance at a local “Bible believing church, as portrayed in the New Testament.”

Using state funds on this project is a state-funded assault on children. An eight-year-old can prove the earth is more than 6,000 years old. This is pushing ignorance on a level that is unprecedented in this day and age.

David Silverman, president of American Atheists

David Silverman, president of American Atheists, came from Cranford, N.J. for the protest.

“Using state funds on this project is a state-funded assault on children,” Silverman said. “An 8-year-old can prove the earth is more than 6,000 years old. This is pushing ignorance on a level that is unprecedented in this day and age.”

Callie Wright of Cincinnati represents the LGBTQ sector of the Tri-State Freethinkers, an Ohio-based organization that has long opposed the ark project.

“Religious organizations can do what they want,” she said, “but they’re getting state money and they discriminate.”

Linda Blackford: 859-231-1359, @lbblackford

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