Noah’s Ark Theme Park … a nice little tax dodge scam

ark-encounter-wallpaper-constructionI previously wrote last August about the plans that the Creationist Museum has for building a life size replica of Noah’s Ark by using state funds. If you missed that and have no idea what I am on about then here is a quick catch-up. These are the people who believe that 6,000 years ago a god created planet earth in just seven calendar days because that is what the bible says. If true then the Sumerians would have looked on in shock and confusion as this all happened. Their literal “truth” is an early creation myth that is a plagiarised copy of an even older babylonian creation myth.

As an aside (via the Onion) 

the Sumerians were taken aback by the creation of the same animals and herb-yielding seeds that they had been domesticating and cultivating for hundreds of generations.

“The Sumerian people must have found God’s making of heaven and earth in the middle of their well-established society to be more of an annoyance than anything else,” said Paul Helund, ancient history professor at Cornell University. “If what the pictographs indicate are true, His loud voice interrupted their ancient prayer rituals for an entire week.”

According to the cuneiform tablets, Sumerians found God’s most puzzling act to be the creation from dust of the first two human beings.

“These two people made in his image do not know how to communicate, lack skills in both mathematics and farming, and have the intellectual capacity of an infant,” one Sumerian philosopher wrote. “They must be the creation of a complete idiot.”

Satire aside, there is some new news regarding Ken Ham’s Ark park folly.

The Non-profit that is really out for a profit

So here is what has been happening, there have been some very very odd financial dealings going on

Answers in Genesis (AiG) is a Christian fundamentalist group that advocates a literal interpretation of the bible, and owns the Creation Museum. Through a subsidiary nonprofit, it also owns Ark Encounter, a for-profit LLC, and has fundraised extensively for the park.

So in essence, the tax exempt non-profit collects “donations” for the for-profit Ark encounter, and then pumps all the funding in. So why does that matter? Well basically because donations to AiG, a nonprofit, are tax deductible, and donations directly to Ark Encounter, a for-profit company, would not be.

And so this is how the scam works …

AiG fundraising materials include a space for donations to Ark Encounter, and note that donations are “tax deductible to the fullest extent allowed by law.” On the AiG website, donors have the option to designate contributions to Ark Encounter. 

A separate Ark Encounter website also states that sponsorship is tax deductible.

Thus it appears that AiG is taking tax-deductible donations and directly giving them to Ark Encounter

So the Freedom From Religion foundation has complained about all this to the tax authorities …

“Answers in Genesis cannot have it both ways,” said FFRF Co-President Annie Laurie Gaylor. “Either the Ark Encounter is a religious enterprise and is eligible for tax-exempt donations, or AiG and Ark Encounter can be taken at their word that the park is purely a commercial enterprise.” In the latter case, then AiG is not “‘operated exclusively for religious, charitable, scientific’ or other exempt purposes,” as required for exempt status, and should lose its tax exemption, FFRF contends. 

So it looks like this little scam has now been rumbled.

It is in fact legal for a non-profit to operate a for-profit subsidiary and the expectation is that it will be there specifically to service the goals of the non-profit. However, the scam here is that the for-profit is explicitly a for-profit to simply get tax rebates … to be precise $18.25 million.

The Letter

A copy of the letter they have sent to the IRS can be found here (PDF).

Further Thoughts

They should of course be free to believe whatever they wish and to promote it all, and so others will also be free to openly criticise by pointing out that none of their religious claims have any merit. What they should of course not get to do is to receive hefty tax breaks to finance all this or indulge in weird schemes involving shell companies to simply act as a way for a religious organisation to scam state funds to run the show.

I do seriously wonder if Ken Ham has been taking tax advice from Kent Hovind (another famous creationist who went to Jail in 2007 for millions of dollars of tax evasion).

Then again when it comes to a literal interpretation of the bible, apparently the bit that says … “Render unto Caesar the things that are Caesar’s” can be happily ignored, and so what can we conclude except to ponder the thought that a literal interpretation of the bible is not so literal after all.

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