Ken Ham is the man best known for his infamous debate with Bill Nye the Science Guy, in which he defended his young-earth belief that the universe is only 6,000 years old. His main argument in the debate was that scientific dating systems are inaccurate, and that “there’s only one infallible dating method: A witness who was there and who knows everything.” Obviously, Ham isn’t a criminal defense attorney, and is oblivious to the fact that eyewitness testimony is increasingly seen as grossly flawed.
But that doesn’t necessarily make Ken Ham a complete idiot. Neither does the fact that he’s a young-earth evangelist, owns a museum devoted to creationism, is building a theme park based on Noah’s ark, believes that gays were responsible for 9/11, and lives in Kentucky. These only make him seem idiotic. It’s clear that he knows exactly what he’s doing, because he’s currently pulling some impressive corporate law tricks that make Jesus’ water-to-wine thing look a little amateurish.
Mr. Ham runs a church – a non-profit ministry, in legal terms – called Answers in Genesis. However, Answers in Genesis is more than just a church: It’s the flagship business at the top of Ham’s corporate structure. Wholly-owned by Answers in Genesis are both the Creation Museum and the Ark Encounter companies – both limited liability companies, operating for a profit – and another non-profit ministry, Crosswater Canyon, which operates the day-to-day running of both the Museum and the ark park. All businesses share the same address – the Creation Museum’s – and have the same or substantially similar list of corporate contacts.
Using this corporate set up, Ham can be either a business venture or a non-profit, depending on who he’s dealing with. This flexibility allows him to gain the benefits of either one, without having to deal with the negatives.
When it comes to taxes, for example, Ham acts as Answers in Genesis. As a non-profit ministry, Answers in Genesis is registered as a 501(c)(3) organization, and is exempt from both income and property taxes. Additionally, because Answers in Genesis owns both the Creation Museum and the Ark Encounter, it doesn’t have to pay property taxes on either business’ property. As for income, donations to either the Museum or to the Park don’t go there directly – they go through the non-profit Answers in Genesis, first. As a result, they don’t have to be listed as income on Ham’s tax returns, allowing people to donate more freely, as they can also write them off their own taxes, too.1
But the benefits of being a 501(c)(3) ministry don’t stop there. Non-profit ministries are exempt from labor laws that inconveniently prohibit them from practicing religious discrimination. By claiming that a 501(c)(3) ministry oversees the hiring for both the alternative science museum and Noah’s water park, Ham can require employees to sign a statement of faith in order to forklift cubits for the amusement park, or peel potatoes in the museum’s cafeteria.
However, when it comes to finding people to invest in a museum where Cain and Abel ride pineapple-eating dinosaurs, or in an amusement park with a water slide that ends in a Flood-anticipating swimming pool, Ham can go to work under the corporate guise of the Creation Museum or Ark Encounter. Because these companies exist solely to pull a profit, investors are less turned off and more willing to back them, financially.2
All of this is happening in, of course, Kentucky. Why did Mr. Ham choose Kentucky? Because the state offers tax incentives to large companies for setting up tourist destinations in the state. If they didn’t, who would ever do such a thing?
The elephant in the room is, of course, that corporate law allows these kinds of loopholes for businesses to manipulate. However, leave it up to an evangelical, fundamentalist church to come up with such a thorough workaround of the legal system. It must have taken tons of paperwork to cover all of the bases – possibly more paperwork than could be accomplished in only 6,000 years.