Secularists in our area called Tri-State Freethinkers (whose president, Jim Helton, is an avowed atheist and serves as regional director of the American Atheists) are bemoaning their failing billboard campaign to oppose the Ark Encounter.
The Tri-State Freethinkers received press recently because they unveiled a proposed billboard campaign to denigrate the Ark Encounter (our life-size Noah’s Ark opening July 7 in Williamstown, Kentucky) to try to stop people from attending. The billboards disparaged and misrepresented not only the Ark Encounter but also the God of the Bible. Here is what these secularists proposed:
After the proposed billboard campaign hit the press, the company that the secularists were going to use for the billboards apparently backed out. They then decided to use a mobile billboard company, which has also backed out. This is what this secularist group claims in its press release:
After initially agreeing to drive the billboard around the park on multiple weekends during the summer, he [the driver] recently backed out due to fear of his own personal safety.
First of all, they would not have been able to drive around the park—no one can! The Ark Encounter is only accessible via shuttle buses from the 4,000-space parking lot a mile from the themed attraction. And we certainly wouldn’t let them drive around the parking lot, which is privately owned. Second, to claim they were worried about possible “personal safety” is ridiculous, given that as a ministry we have always been safety conscious and have a large team of professionally trained public safety officers for our facilities. And I can’t imagine any of the local businesses allowing these denigrating billboards on their property to thus be associated with such an attack meant to try to drive people away from the area!
The secularists then state:
It would appear as if there is a clear double-standard being applied against non-theistic customers in Kentucky. “In the past, Lamar put up Ark Encounter billboards that said ‘You can’t sink this ship,’ which targeted opponents to the park.”
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!
Now in the near future we will be putting up some billboards about the Ark Encounter, and they will have a positive message to share about our family attraction coming to Williamstown. We also want to make it clear that Freethinkers and other skeptics are very welcome to visit the Ark, and we are hopeful they will be open minded enough to want to learn about an account in the Bible that is often censored by anti-freethinking activists in the public arena.
The reason we had to go to federal court regarding the tax incentive (a case which we won) was that secularists had put great pressure on the state to deny our First Amendment right to the free exercise of religion. They simply don’t want Christians to have the full freedom to present their beliefs in the culture.
Now why do I say these secularists want to hurt Kentucky?
When we set out to build the Creation Museum in Northern Kentucky in 1996, a local atheist group vigorously opposed us. As a result, the then Fiscal Court ruled against our rezoning, and we had to find a different museum property. We found the piece that the museum is now built on—a much better location, right off exit 11 on Interstate 275, and we built a much bigger museum. The atheists protested outside the Creation Museum on the day it was opened in 2007. Over the years, they did all they could to try to keep us from opening a museum. But they did not succeed, reminding me of the verse
But as for you, you meant evil against me; but God meant it for good, in order to bring it about as it is this day, to save many people alive. (Genesis 50:20)
These atheists had wanted to stop us from building a museum that eventually provided thousands of jobs in the area (including about 400 staff at the Answers in Genesis/Creation Museum/Hebron design facilities). They wanted to stop the opening of a facility that has added at least $60 million every year to the regional economy since it opened in 2007, based on a formula provided by the Northern Kentucky Convention and Visitors Bureau. The Creation Museum has now been open for almost nine years.
In fact, we commissioned an economic impact study from Jerry Henry and Associates, and using the lowest predicted attendance at the Ark each year (1.4 million as determined by primary research by two detailed general population studies), the combined economic impact from the Ark and Creation Museum over 10 years is estimated to be around $4 billion dollars. The study also predicted that around 20,000 Ark- and Creation Museum-related jobs would be created. Personally, I believe the impact will be greater than this. And keep in mind that over 80% of guests who visit the Creation Museum (and will visit the Ark Encounter) come from outside our Tri-state region of Kentucky, Ohio, and Indiana. Many come from countries around the world. At least two hotels in Northern Kentucky have told us they would have closed down several years ago if it wasn’t for the tourism impact of the Creation Museum.
The point is that atheists and other secularist groups (including the Tri-State Freethinkers) apparently would rather stop Kentucky from receiving this tremendous economic and job-creation boost that the Ark will bring, than being tolerant of Christians trying to have free exercise of their religion by building Christian-themed attractions. They really would rather hurt Kentucky than have a Christian group build such world-class attractions open to everyone who chooses to visit.
Secularists have spread a lot of misinformation about the Ark Encounter (and Creation Museum), including gross misrepresentations concerning the tourism tax incentive. Absolutely zero dollars from the State of Kentucky has been used in building the Ark Encounter—it is totally privately funded, contrary to what many of these secularists have falsely claimed.
It’s no secret about local secularists and the true motive regarding their proposed anti-Ark billboard campaign. Ultimately they want to stop people going to the Ark Encounter, a Christian, family-friendly attraction that will add jobs and will have a great economic impact on the state. It begs the questions: what are the secularists so fearful of? Christians that I know don’t try to stop people from going to secular, pro-evolution attractions like a natural history museum. 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 regional tourist facilities (as we do and will continue to do) and help the economy of Kentucky, instead of denigrating a world-class themed attraction that does not share their worldview.
With all this as background, I know you will see the utter hypocrisy in the Tri-State Freethinkers final statement in their press release:
“We secularists, agnostics and atheists are essentially like everyone else,” added Helton. “We’re your friends, neighbours, co-workers and family members. All we want is a place at the table for our ideas, too, and we are concerned that our voice and message is being denied in favor of religious messages.”
Well, what can you expect from hypocritical people who have no basis for absolute standards? Those who claim tolerance the loudest are some of the most intolerant people around! Since when have those of us associated with the Ark Encounter and Creation Museum ever tried to stop people from visiting a secular-themed attraction or a secular museum that promotes evolution?
There are secular museums and themed attractions across the world, yet this “Freethinkers” group claims it is being “denied” a place at the table for their ideas “in favor of religious messages”? And secular humanism dominates almost all government-run schools. The secularists’ claims are nonsense!
Let’s not allow these intolerant secularists to hurt Kentucky!