By Gerald Harris, Georgia Christian Index
PETERSBURG, Ky. — One year ago Answers in Genesis filed a lawsuit against the government of Kentucky for alleged discrimination in refusing to extend a sales tax rebate incentive program to the Ark Encounter theme park the apologetics ministry is building in northern Kentucky near Cincinnati.
Baptist Press reported, “The state’s decision to deny the tax incentive based on AIG’s status as a religious organization is against the law and violates legal precedent, the lawsuit asserts.”
AIG president Ken Ham said, “The state was so insistent on treating our religious entity as a second-class citizen that we were simply left with no alternative but to proceed to court. This is the latest example of increasing government hostility towards religion in America, and it’s certainly among the most blatant. Our organization spent many months attempting to reason with state officials so that this lawsuit would not be necessary.”
On Jan. 25 AIG reported, “In a victory for religious freedom in America, a federal court today issued a preliminary injunction against the Commonwealth of Kentucky for unlawfully blocking efforts by the Ark Encounter theme park developer, Answers in Genesis (“AiG”), to participate in the Kentucky Tourism Development Program. The federal court found ‘that the Commonwealth’s exclusion of AiG from participating in the program for the reasons stated – i.e., on the basis of AiG’s religious beliefs, purpose, mission, message, or conduct, is a violation of AiG’s rights under the First Amendment to the federal Constitution’ (p. 70). The judge has ordered the state to move forward in processing AiG’s application for the available tax rebate incentives that would become effective after the Ark opens and is operating.
“In his decision today, Judge Greg Van Tatenhove of the US District Court for the Eastern District of Kentucky also upheld AiG’s right to religious preferences in its hiring. In the last paragraph of his ruling, the judge declared that AiG may ‘utilize any Title VII exception for which it qualifies concerning the hiring of its personnel.’ Earlier in his decision he stated, ‘Because AiG likely qualifies for the ministerial exception under Title VII, it can choose to hire people who adhere to certain religious beliefs while still being in compliance with state and federal law as agreed in the application and without their hiring practices being attributed to the Commonwealth.’”
“This ruling is an important precedent,” said Mike Johnson, chief counsel of the public interest law firm, Freedom Guard, who argued the case for AiG. “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.”
The Christian Index stands with AIG and Freedom Guard in expressing thanks to Judge Greg Van Tatenhove for his commitment to the Constitution and to Religious Freedom.
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