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The developer of a Noah's Ark-based theme park wants to require his future employees to swear to their belief in creationism and the Biblical flood.
The proposed park, called Ark Encounter, is slated to open in Williamston, Kentucky, in 2016, but President Mike Zovath may not get to have his park be the Eden of his dreams. Reuters reports there's been a slight snag in allowing Ark Encounter LLC to receive a tourism tax credit from the state of Kentucky, based on Zovath's plans to only hire creationists.
How do state tax credits and Zovath's creationists-only plan for Ark Encounter intersect?
Faith Statements and Hiring Practices
In general, private businesses cannot discriminate against potential hires based on their religious beliefs (or lack thereof). That's because of federal prohibitions against such employment discrimination (Title VII) and corresponding state laws.
Kentucky's own laws generally prohibit employers from refusing to hire an applicant because of his or her religion. But there is an exception for a "religious corporation, association, or society" when hiring someone to carry on the religious work of that employer.
Reuters reports that Zovath plans to ask employees to "sign a faith statement including a belief in creationism and the flood" in order to work at Ark Encounter, which may be perfectly legal if the park if his company is considered a religious corporation.
The U.S. Supreme Court found in 2010 that statements of faith were fine for private membership in clubs, but if that entity received state money, a religious organization may have to abide by a non-discrimination policy. The Supreme Court case doesn't exactly apply to Zovath's Bible-themed private park, but it gets a little closer when you consider his company applied for a state tourism tax credit.
Tourism Credit With Strings Attached
According to Reuters, Ark Encounter LLC received preliminary approval to collect a sales tax rebate which may be worth more than $18 million over a 10-year period.
But in a very pointed correspondence in September, Bob Stewart, secretary of the Kentucky Tourism, Arts, and Heritage Cabinet, told Zovath that "[t]he Commonwealth does not provide incentives to any company that discriminates on the basis of religion and we will not make any exception for Ark Encounter, LLC." The Courier-Journal reports that this was the last communication between the state and Ark Encounter.
Seems like Arc Encounter wants to have its cake (i.e., a religious exemption) and eat it with a drizzle of state tax credits. Zovath may need a miracle for this one...