Louisville, Ky. – A federal court has issued a preliminary injunction against Kentucky for unlawfully blocking efforts by the Ark Encounters theme park developer to participate in the Kentucky Tourism Development Program.
Judge Greg Van Tatenhove of U.S. District Court for Eastern District of Kentucky found that excluding the developer, Christian group Answers in Genesis (AiG), from receiving tax incentives under the program is a violation of the group’s religious rights under the First Amendment.
State officials, in 2014, under former Kentucky Governor Steve Beshear, chose to block the development from up to $18 million in sales tax tourism incentives due to the religious purpose of the attraction. AiG filed the federal lawsuit against the state in February 2015.
In his decision, Judge Tatenhove also upheld AiG’s right to religious preferences in its hiring, writing AiG may “utilize any Title VII exception for which it qualifies concerning the hiring of its personnel.”
“The law is crystal clear that the state cannot discriminate against a Christian group simply because of its viewpoint, but that is precisely what happened here,” said AiG co-founder Ken Ham in a press release. “The decision today is a victory for the free exercise of religion in this country, including in hiring.”
Construction on the $92 million first phase of the Ark Encounter in Williamsburg, Ky., is scheduled to open July 7, 2016.