An atheist group is mocking the planned construction of a Noah’s Ark theme park in Kentucky with a billboard campaign that refers to the project as a “genocide and incest park.” The billboards additionally claim that the park “[celebrates] 2000 years of myths," reports the Louisville Courier-Journal.
The tourist attraction, Ark Encounter, is set to open in July in Williamstown. The centerpiece of the park is a 510-foot replica of Noah’s Ark, as described in the Bible. In a statement, the Tri-State Freethinkers, the group behind the billboards, argued that their opposition to Ark Encounter is based in its “immoral and highly inappropriate theology.” They believe that the park “celebrates the destruction of humankind, minus whoever was on the ark."
The Freethinkers additionally took aim at the attraction’s “discriminatory hiring practices,” which mandate that gays need not apply.
According to Slate’s Mark Joseph Stern, the company's documents state that “employees must oppose abortion, euthanasia, gay rights, and trans rights.”
Here’s an excerpt from Ark Encounter’s statement of faith:
"The only legitimate marriage sanctioned by God is the joining of one man and one woman in a single, exclusive union, as delineated in Scripture. God intends sexual intimacy to only occur between a man and a woman who are married to each other, and has commanded that no intimate sexual activity be engaged in outside of a marriage between a man and a woman. Any form of sexual immorality, such as adultery, fornication, homosexuality, lesbianism, bisexual conduct, bestiality, incest, pornography, or any attempt to change one’s gender, or disagreement with one’s biological gender, is sinful and offensive to God."
Answers in Genesis, the evangelical group behind Ark Encounter, is also responsible for the Creation Museum in Petersburg, Ky., where visitors learn that the earth is only 6,000 years old and that humans and dinosaurs once coexisted in peace.
That institution has also come under fire for antigay discrimination. According to The New Civil Rights Movement, the Creation Museum forces employees to sign a similar pledge, one that “makes applicants promise to follow… orthodox Christian beliefs, including opposing same-sex marriage and believing all answers exist in the Bible.”
In a 2014 op-ed for the Lexington Herald-Leader, Daniel Phelps of Kentuckians for Science Education pointed out that the job description openly broadcasts that recruitment is based in Christian morality. “Our work at Ark Encounter is not just a job, it is also a ministry,” a job post for the park read. “Our purpose through the Ark Encounter is to serve and glorify the Lord with our God-given talents with the goal of edifying believers and evangelizing the lost.”
In a formal complaint that year to Steve Beshear, then governor of Kentucky, Americans United for the Separation of Church and State further laid out its objections to the park’s application process. To get hired at the park, prospective employees are forced to sign three documents: “salvation testimony,” “creation belief statement,” and “confirmation of your agreement with the … statement of faith,” the complaint noted.
If you’re gay (or appear to be gay), you’re not allowed to attend a Creation Museum function. In 2011 the museum reportedly turned away two men who purchased tickets to its annual Date Night. Creation Museum representatives allegedly told the couple that their presence would “add an un-Christian element to the event” and denied them entry. But the men weren’t a couple — or gay. They were both heterosexuals who simply didn’t have a date to the event.
The man behind Answers in Genesis, Ken Ham, isn’t any more welcoming to gays. Ham is a 64-year-old Christian fundamentalist and motivational speaker with a noted history of opposing LGBT rights.
In a 2015 speech, Ham argued that following the Supreme Court’s ruling on marriage equality, the United States is “under judgment from God.” “One of the signs of even God judging a nation and withdrawing the restraining influence of the Holy Spirit, one of the signs is the sign of homosexual behavior, as it says in Romans 1,” he said, reports Right Wing Watch. “And I believe we’re seeing that in this nation, I believe this nation is under judgment.”
According to Right Wing Watch, Ham has also stated that the definition of marriage as between a man and a woman is so fundamental to society that if we give up that principle, people may as well go naked. “If you abandon Genesis’ literal history of marriage and say marriage can be two men or two women or whatever you want, well, why not abandon clothing?” he asked.
Ham’s critics argue that he and his organization can believe whatever they like about LGBT people. The issue is that they’re asking taxpayers to foot the bill for antigay bigotry, which is prohibited by state law.
In 2014, Answers in Genesis applied for $18 million in tax breaks from the Kentucky Tourism Development Finance Authority to build Ark Encounters, and their request was approved by the state. But that’s just the initial grant: Stern writes that — in total — Kentucky “could grant Ark Encounter up to $73 million in tax breaks.”
Ark Encounter’s funding was briefly revoked by Gov. Beshear after news broke of the park’s hiring practices — as companies that discriminate in employment are ineligible for state tax breaks. Bob Stewart, the cabinet secretary for the Kentucky Tourism Arts & Heritage board, confirmed the denial of funds in an interview with Insider Louisville. “The use of state incentives in this way violates the Separation of Church and State provisions of the Constitution and is therefore impermissible,” he said.
However, Answers in Genesis fought to have its funding reinstated — and won.
In 2015, the Courier-Journal reports that the group appealed the board’s decision through a federal lawsuit. Answers in Genesis argued that Ark Encounters’ tax exemptions were denied based on the theme park’s “religious purpose and message.” U.S. District Judge Gregory Van Tatenhove sided with Ham’s organization, writing in his January ruling that the attraction is “neutral, has a secular purpose, and does not grant preferential treatment to anyone based on religion.”
Groups like Tri-State Freethinkers not only disagree with that ruling, they’re also willing to fight it. The Freethinkers have crowdsourced more than $7,200 to campaign against Ark Encounters. If the group raises $10,000 — their next milestone — that will buy “four billboards at the same time or up to 10 locations spread out over the summer.” Should they raise $150 million, however, they plan to build their own park — one that doesn’t discriminate against gays.