It’s been six months since we wrote Ken Ham’s Litigation: 02 July 2015 Update. That was the last time we reported on the suit filed against Kentucky by Answers in Genesis (AIG) — the creationist ministry of Ken Ham (ol’ Hambo). We first discussed the case here: AIG’s Complaint Against Kentucky.
Well, dear reader, there will probably be celebrations today at ol’ Hambo’s place — but the celebrating will be undoubtedly be humble and subdued, which is the spiritually correct way to do such things. This is the news from the website of the Christian Broadcasting Network (CBN) run by Pat Robertson. Their headline is: Ark Encounter Theme Park Wins Victory over Religious Discrimination. Here are some excerpts, with bold font added by us:
A federal judge says Kentucky can’t block the Ark Encounter theme park from taking part in a sales tax rebate program just because the park “advances religion.” Kentucky wasn’t going to let the park featuring a life-size recreation of Noah’s Ark enjoy the tax rebate because of developer Answers in Genesis’s religious beliefs, purpose, mission and message.
As you may recall from the last time we visited this topic, Kentucky had moved to dismiss Hambo’s request for a preliminary injunction against the state’s decision to withhold sales tax rebates. This is the judge’s long-awaited ruling on that motion. CBN tells us about the reaction of ol’ Hambo:
“I rejoice in the court’s decision today,” Answers in Genesis President Ken Ham said in a news release. “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. The decision today is a victory for the free exercise of religion in this country.“
Calm down, Hambo. It’s just a ruling on your request for a preliminary injunction. All it means is that for the moment, the state can’t deny you the tax goodies you’ve been seeking. Although you’ve begun selling tickets, because the Ark theme park hasn’t opened yet, there won’t be much in sales taxes, so there won’t be much money flowing your way until later — if ever. The court will, in due course, make a final decision on the case. And let’s remember — this is just the trial court. Whatever happens, there will certainly be an appeal.
Despite the temporary nature of the court’s ruling, Hambo’s lawyer is gushing even more than Hambo. CBN reports:
“The ruling is an important precedent. The court has affirmed a longstanding principle that the Constitution does not permit a state to show hostility towards religion,” AiG lead attorney Mike Johnson said. “The First Amendment does not allow Christian organizations to be treated like second-class citizens merely because of what they believe.”
Good grief! The case has just begun, so this isn’t much of a precedent. Nevertheless, even getting a preliminary injunction is quite an accomplishment, so a bit of gloating is understandable. However, this needs to be seen in the context of what will likely be a prolonged legal battle.
Thanks to one of our clandestine operatives — code named “Blue Grass” — who works full time investigating Hambo’s activities, we’ve seen the judge’s order. It’s dated 25 January 2016 and it’s 71 pages long, but we don’t yet have a link to which we can refer you. Anyway, at the end it says, with one bracketed insert in red supplied by us:
Accordingly, and the Court being sufficiently advised, it is hereby ORDERED as follows:
1. Defendants’ Motion to Dismiss Plaintiffs’ claims under Rule 12(b)(6) [R. 18] is DENIED as to all claims except those against Secretary Stewart in his individual capacity;
2. Plaintiffs’ claims against Secretary Stewart in his individual capacity are DISMISSED;
3. Plaintiffs’ state law claims are DISMISSED WITHOUT PREJUDICE to their being pursued in state court, pursuant to Plaintiffs’ withdrawal of those claims [R. 36 at 22]; and
4. Plaintiffs’ Motion for Preliminary Injunction [R. 15] is GRANTED in PART as follows: The Commonwealth of Kentucky and its Tourism, Arts, and Heritage Cabinet are enjoined from applying the KTD Act in a way that excludes AE, LLC [we assume that’s Ark Encounter] from the program based on its religious purpose and message or based on its desire to utilize any Title VII exception for which it qualifies concerning the hiring of its personnel.
So Hambo has been given a preliminary injunction against the state’s freezing him out of the sales tax rebate program. It’s an important first step, so we shouldn’t trivialize it — but it’s only the first step. This thing still has a long way to go, and we’ll be keeping you advised.
Breaking news! Radio station WUKY, a community-supported service of the University of Kentucky, has this headline at their website: Kentucky Won’t Fight Tax Break Ruling For Noah’s Ark Project. They say:
A spokeswoman for Kentucky Republican Gov. Matt Bevin says Tuesday that the state has no plans to appeal, adding that they were pleased with U.S. District Judge Greg Van.
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