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Anti-Ark Park Billboard A Hard Sell In Kentucky

Tri-State Freethinkers

An atheist group seeking to post billboards criticizing the Ark Encounter park under construction in Williamsburg, Kentucky is having trouble finding any takers.

The Tri-State Freethinkers crowdsourced more than $10,000 to fund the advertisements, which cast the Noah’s Ark-based attraction as a “genocide & incest park celebrating 2,000 years of myths" – complete with renderings of the ark surrounded by people drowning.

Group president Jim Helton says they've been in talks with two companies, Lamar Advertising and a smaller mobile billboard operation, but the latter turned down the offer over safety concerns expressed by the driver.

"He feared for his life. He feared he would be attacked driving around, that the message would not be received well," Helton tells WUKY. "Lamar, just basically management called me and said we're not touching that with a 10-foot pole."

Helton says his organization objects to the unscientific, “immoral” message of the Biblical flood story and maintains the park’s religious preference policy in hiring should render it ineligible for millions in recently restored state tax breaks.  As for the advertising, he senses a double standard at work.

"Answers in Genesis put up billboards attacking us and groups like ours. When originally it looked like they were going to lose their $18 million in tax incentives, they put up billboards with Lamar saying you can't sink this ship, which is basically an attack on our community. So we're not allowed to fire back," Helton argues.

The man at the helm of the ark project, Answers in Genesis head Ken Ham, regularly takes to his blog to rebut critics. He’s said the secularist campaign amounts to an attack on Christianity and labeled the freethought advocates intolerant.

In a post dated May 11, the Australian-born young Earth creationist responded: "AiG’s billboards, however, were not put up to denigrate any person or organization; they were put up to respond to the atheists who had put tremendous pressure on the state of Kentucky and the former governor, Steve Beshear, to stop the Ark Encounter from getting the tourism tax incentive for which it had received preliminary approval. We were responding to yet another atheist attack on our ministry!"

Originally okayed by the State Tourism Finance Development Authority in 2014, the tax breaks were rescinded when critics brought to light hiring policies that would bar non-Christians from working at the Grant County theme park. But Ark Encounter took the battle to federal court and won.

The $92 million dollar attraction is slated to open in July.

WUKY is awaiting comment from Lamar Advertising.

Update (5:20 PM): AiG president Ken Ham had this to say in a statement:

"With our future Ark billboards, we will instead have a positive message to share about our family attraction coming to Williamstown. Freethinkers and other skeptics are very welcome to visit, and we are hopeful they will be open minded enough to want to learn more about an account in the Bible that is often censored in the public arena by anti-freethinking activists.

"The local secularists have revealed their true motive with their proposed billboard campaign. They ultimately want to stop people going to the Ark Encounter, which is a Christian, family-friendly attraction that will have a great economic impact on the state and add jobs. It begs the question: what are the secularists so fearful of?  The Christians I know don’t try to stop people from going to evolutionary natural history museums. In fact, we will be promoting all the major tourist attractions in the region even though we may not necessarily agree with everything stated at each place. I call on the Freethinkers to support all tourist facilities and help the economy of Kentucky, instead of denigrating a world-class themed attraction that does not share their worldview."

Josh James fell in love with college radio at Western Kentucky University's student station, New Rock 92 (now Revolution 91.7). After working as a DJ and program director, he knew he wanted to come home to Lexington and try his hand in public radio.
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