Righting America

A forum for scholarly conversation about Christianity, culture, and politics in the US
Ken Ham and the Government Subsidy that Makes Ark Encounter Possible | Righting America

by William Trollinger

One of the ends of the life-size Ark (Ark of Noah) at the Ark Encounter, with people walking below it for scale, as beige pillars hold up the Ark and keep it from touching the ground.
Exterior of Ark Encounter. Photo copyright: Susan Trollinger (2018)

In an article celebrating the five-year anniversary of Ark Encounter’s opening, Ken Ham continued to issue misleading (now there’s an understatement!) comments regarding how the Ark has been funded:

Another challenge since opening in 2016 has been countering myths about the Ark Encounter, like the rumor that state money was used to build and open the Ark Encounter. Also, it has had to counter the myth that the city of Williamstown is at risk on $62 million in Ark bonds. The bonds are “private activity bonds” are not a debt of the issuer (Williamstown) but only the borrower (Ark Encounter). AiG supporters funded the bond offering, and all bond payments have been paid on schedule.

Four sentences of deception. 

The little town of Williamstown issued $62m of junk bonds in 2013, and then promptly loaned the proceeds to help get the Ark Encounter project started. This nifty deal – at least, for Ark Encounter — was made even niftier by the stipulation that (and here is the point that Ham never acknowledges) 75% of what Ark Encounter would have owed in property taxes over the course of the next three decades would instead be used to pay off the loan.

What a deal. If this is not a government subsidy, I don’t know what is.

Williamstown is anything but a wealthy town. Its median income is (as of 2019) 23.5% less than the median annual income in Kentucky, and its poverty level is 19.8% higher than the poverty level across the state. And to put this into perspective, Kentucky is the fourth poorest state in the Union.

So why did this economically struggling town agree to make such a sizable monetary gift to Ark Encounter?

Of course, you know the answer. 

Ham and company sold town officials on the idea that the Ark would bring great economic benefits to Williamstown. But to put it mildly, that has not happened. Ark Encounter has not sparked an economic revival in Williamstown. It remains a poor town. 

Ham blames the town itself for this economic failure, explaining that it is too far on the other side of interstate to get Ark visitors. Ham’s chutzpah is breathtaking, given that he and his colleagues failed to mention this geographical liability as they were charming Williamstown officials out of 75% of property taxes over three decades. 

So why can’t Ham acknowledge the government subsidy that makes Ark Encounter possible?

Again, you know the answer.

Ham is a Christian Right crusader, and a central feature of the Christian Right mantra is that the secular government is engaged in an ever-increasing persecution of true Bible-believing Christians. In the article celebrating Ark Encounter’s five-year anniversary, Ham alluded to this persecution by noting that the greatest challenge that the Ark has faced in its history “was the government-mandated COVID-19 closure of the Ark last year that lasted almost three months.” 

(Just a side note: Ham never says a word about the 606,218 COVID deaths in the United States. But of course, if you create a tourist site that commemorates/celebrates the drowning of, according to Ark Encounter, up to twenty billion people, how could you have concern about 606,218 dead human beings?)

So Ham hates it when folks point out that Ark Encounter is subsidized by the government. In response to my July 2019 post on this point, “Ken Ham Misleads Again,” Ham angrily responded with “University of Dayton Professor Attacks Ark and Ken Ham in Unscholarly Article,” an article which concluded with “concern” for my students. I responded with “Ken Ham Attacks rightingamerica,” which concluded as follows:

I stand by my research and my post (and Ham need not worry about my students). If Ham’s post were a paper written by a University of Dayton student in one of my first-year classes, I would have written this at the bottom of the paper: Failure to provide substantive evidence to back your claims, and a dismaying tendency to resort to ad hominem attacks. This is not acceptable for a university-level paper. Revise and resubmit. [Thanks to Sue Trollinger for the italicized text.]

Six months after all of this, in February 2020, Ham attacked the wonderful film about Ark Encounter, “We Believe in Dinosaurs,” once again focusing on the fact that the film points out that the Ark has received huge tax breaks. In response, David McMillan – a former young Earth creationist who is featured in the film – responded with a brilliant Cincinnati Enquirer article, “Ham fleeced a town that gave him his Ark Encounter.” 

This headline says it all. And Ham is never going to own it.