Sunday, February 08, 2015

My Sunday Feeling

I never cease to be amazed by the persecution complex present among certain majorities.  Some straights claim to be persecuted by gays.  Rich folks by lazy welfare cheats. Whites by African-Americans.  And some Christians by everything.  Scientists, historians, "secularists" and people that say "Happy Holidays" during the Winter Solstice.  

A recent example of this paranoia may be seen in its full flower over to the Commonwealth of Kentucky where a ministry called "Answers in Genesis" has sued over Kentucky tourism officials denying AiG (not to be confused with the financial and insurance conglomerate that damn near took down the world's economy when it defaulted on all the credit-swaps it "insured" during the real estate bust in 2008) 18 million bucks in tax incentives to build a theme park called the Ark Encounter which would feature a 500 foot long replica of the vessel used by Noah to save all of the animal kingdom (except the dinosaurs) during either one or both of the Great Floods as recounted in the Book of Genesis.   AiG is no stranger to this type of real estate development.  The ministry opened the Creation Museum in northern Kentucky which promotes a strict interpretation of the Genesis account of creation.  

According to an AP story in the Lexington Herald Leader, AiG is suing because Kentucky's actions allegedly violate the organization's right to free expression of religion which is guaranteed by the 1st Amendment.  

Which, of course, is complete hooey.  Here's what happened.  

Kentucky was on board with this project until it found out that AiG would require applicants for jobs at the park to sign a statement that they believed in the Genesis account of Creation including the belief-considered non-sensical even by many fundamentalists(even that known rationalist Pat Robertson)-that the Earth is a relatively juvenile 6000 years old. The tourism board considered this to be discrimination based on religion which the state could not support through taxpayer financed tax incentives.  

As I say at times like these, this is an opportunity to teach.  

Religious institutions, to a certain extent. are free to discriminate in their hiring practices.  A Catholic school may limit the pool of applicants considered for a position teaching theology to Catholics.  A Jewish school may likewise hire only Jews to teach Torah.  A Baptist church in the Southern Baptist communion may hire only graduates from a Southern Baptist seminary for its clergy.  And so on.

Where it gets less clear is if a Catholic school would only consider Catholics for positions to discharge strictly non-ministerial duties such as teaching math or coaching football.  Or being a janitor or food services worker. The case law, as I remember it, is that our hypothetical Catholic school could not discriminate in this fashion for every position that it offered to the public.

But we don't need to go there.

What is clear in the present case(at least to the Kentucky tourism folks) is that if the park is primarily an extension of AiG's ministry, it is not eligible for state tax incentives.  Further, if the purpose is primarily a business, such as a football stadium or water park, it is not eligible for assistance from the state if it discriminates in its hiring practices.  AiG cannot have it both ways.

This is not discrimination against religion by Kentucky.  This is not suppression of free expression of religion.  If AiG can gin up the money for this silly park through private donations as it did for the equally silly Creation Museum ( where I read that there are exhibits depicting humans cavorting Flintstone-like with dinosaurs), then God bless. But every application for state funding for private business ( loans and loan guarantees, bids on building projects, government contracts, you name it) I have ever seen in my illustrious career requires the applicant to sign a statement that it will not discriminate in its hiring practices. Which is where I am guessing the trouble started here.

Answers in Genesis, as a ministry, may limit its pool of job applicants to "young Earth" types if it so desires.  It just can't ask the government to help finance such an endeavor.

It can't have it both ways.  And I like the Commonwealth's chances in Federal Court. 

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