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Discrimination in Kentucky

It's been fifteen months since Ken Ham debated Bill Nye over the viability of creationism as a model of origins (video link). Ham has spent most of those 15 months embroiled in a different sort of controversy.

His organization, Answers in Genesis (AiG), plans to build a 510-foot replica of Noah's ark—full scale according to the measurements in the book of Genesis. Officially called Ark Encounter, the exhibit was initially described by Ham as a tourist attraction in an attempt to obtain $18 million of tax relief from the State of Kentucky.

Watchdog group Americans United for Separation of Church and State objected, pointing to a clause in the Ark Encounter's requirements for job applicants.

Nestled among the requirements for all job applicants were three troubling obligatory documents: “Salvation testimony,” “Creation belief statement,” and a “Confirmation of your agreement with the AiG statement of faith.” (AiG is Answers in Genesis, Ham’s ministry and Ark Encounter’s parent company.) These first two requirements are problematic enough: The park is quite openly instructing all applicants to pledge that they personally believe in creationist Christianity. If an applicant has other beliefs, her application to Ark Encounter isn’t welcome.

But the third requirement is far, far worse. AiG’s statement of faith is no mere loyalty oath: It’s a four-part theological declaration mandating that all signatories accept dozens of fundamentalist Christian principles.

AiG wants to exclude not only non-Christians from the Ark Encounter staff, but also Christians who don't agree with AiG's theology. The job requirements make it clear that the Ark Encounter is not being built as a tourist attraction, but as a ministry tool, and that has led to conflict with the state.

As Americans United for Separation of Church and State pointed out, Section 5 of the Kentucky constitution states that the government may never preference “any religious sect, society, or denomination” over another. Courts have interpreted this section to mean that the state may not create benefits for the public that are available only to specific religious groups. Yet that is precisely what Kentucky has done by funding Ark Encounter with taxpayer money: Sure, the park may create hundreds of jobs, but Ham has ensured that those jobs will go to only biblical literalist Christians whose beliefs align perfectly with his.

Facing a loss of state tax breaks, AiG doubled down, sending a letter alleging that the state was discriminating against them. The letter states that as an "overtly religious entity" AiG is "clearly allowed" to include religious criteria in its hiring decisions. In February, Ham formally filed a discrimination lawsuit against the State of Kentucky, and just last week Ham filed an injuction to prevent the state from collecting taxes from Ark Encounter until the lawsuit is settled.

Ken Ham is absolutely certain that his quirky interpretation of Genesis 1-3 is worth all the fights and bad publicity. But perhaps it might make a better Christian witness if he would simply agree to pay the taxes. The Bible doesn't say a lot on the subject, but when it does weigh in, it doesn't appear to favor filing discrimination lawsuits.

And they came and said to him, "Teacher, we know that you are sincere, and show deference to no one; for you do not regard people with partiality, but teach the way of God in accordance with truth. Is it lawful to pay taxes to the emperor, or not? Should we pay them, or should we not?" But knowing their hypocrisy, he said to them, "Why are you putting me to the test? Bring me a denarius and let me see it." And they brought one. Then he said to them, "Whose head is this, and whose title?" They answered, "The emperor's." Jesus said to them, "Give to the emperor the things that are the emperor's, and to God the things that are God's." And they were utterly amazed at him.—Mark 12:14-17

For the same reason you also pay taxes, for the authorities are God's servants, busy with this very thing. Pay to all what is due them—taxes to whom taxes are due, revenue to whom revenue is due, respect to whom respect is due, honor to whom honor is due.—Romans 13:6-7

And on the subject of lawsuits, we find this. It relates to lawsuits between church members, but can also be applied more generally.

In fact, to have lawsuits at all with one another is already a defeat for you. Why not rather be wronged? Why not rather be defrauded? But you yourselves wrong and defraud—and believers at that. Do you not know that wrongdoers will not inherit the kingdom of God?—1 Corinthians 6:7-9a

The Bible gets it right. For Ken Ham to spend his time and energy embroiled in lawsuits is already a defeat for his ministry. His eagerness to make threats and to fight stands in sharp contrast to Jesus'  teaching of non-resistance. Perhaps AiG could benefit from spending a little less time defending its interpretation of Genesis, and a little more time studying the Gospels. Just a suggestion.

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