Answers in Genesis CEO and President Ken Ham has criticized a couple of Baptist pastors who've joined the Americans United for Separation of Church and State group in putting pressure on Kentucky to deny the Ark Encounter project the opportunity to participate in a state sales tax rebate incentive program.
The life-sized Ark project is currently being constructed, with the opening planned for 2016. Ham's organization filed a lawsuit against the state in December after Kentucky officials said AIG cannot show religious preference in its hiring when it comes to workers helping with the construction.
Ham said that this denial points to "attacks on religious freedom" in America, and accused the AU of applying pressure on Kentucky officials to come to such a decision.
Ham revealed on Tuesday that the AU has lodged a motion with a federal court to intervene in AIG's lawsuit with the state of Kentucky, seeking to take part of the legal action and side with the state. Among the four Kentucky intervenors who've backed the AU and said they oppose taxpayers' dollars being used to promote religion are two Baptist pastors.
The AU has said in a press release that "in a motion to intervene and a proposed motion to dismiss the lawsuit, filed Tuesday night in a federal district court, Americans United says it wants to prevent taxpayer dollars from being used to unconstitutionally finance a religious ministry."
Christopher M. Caldwell of Broadway Baptist Church, who is one of the intervenors, has said: "The tax rebates sought for Ark Encounter would effectively compel me, as a Kentucky taxpayer, to subsidize a religious ministry against my will."
Ham said that the statement is backed by the three other intervenors, including Paul D. Simmons on the faculty at the University of Louisville, who is also an ordained Baptist minister and says he has "served as pastor and interim pastor at a number of churches in Kentucky."
Ham, who is also the Creation Museum CEO and president, repeatedly denied that the Ark Encounter is seeking any kind of government grant, calling it a "myth" that the AU has been spreading.
"Absolutely no unwilling taxpayers will see a single penny of their tax dollars go toward the Ark Encounter. The tax incentive program refunds a portion of the sales tax collected from those who voluntarily chose to buy a ticket to tour the Ark Encounter," Ham stated.
"It is completely inconsequential that these four intervenors are taxpaying residents of Kentucky, unless they chose to visit the Ark once it opens and pay sales tax on their tickets. If they don't choose to visit, none of their money will be used in any way to subsidize the Ark Encounter. They will not be compelled to 'subsidize a religious ministry against [their] will.'"
The Ark Encounter website features regular updates about the project, including photos and videos from the construction site.