A few years ago, after a nationwide search, a group of fundamentalist Muslim leaders, formally known as Answers in Islam, finally picked the location for the development of a $150 million Quran Museum, complete with a full-scale replica of the Kaaba and the Ajyad Fortress in Mecca, Saudi Arabia. They had been seriously contemplating building the facility in Dearborn, Michigan or Yorba Linda, California on a pristine plot of land overlooking the Richard M. Nixon Presidential Library, but when a friend advised them to reach out to Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal and Economic Development Director Steven Moret, they were immediately sold: The new home of the Quran Museum would be in Bossier City, Louisiana, transforming 300 acres on banks of the Red River into an international Islamic destination.
In return for the enormous investment, Louisiana was willing to offer the developer a sizable tax incentive, $18 million over the course of 10 years.
Louisiana’s economy is dependent on tourism, and Answers in Islam sufficiently demonstrated that, almost immediately, the economic impact would be enormous: Approximately 1.6 million visitors a year. The tax revenue generated would more than justify the subsidy. Unfortunately, though, Answers in Islam hadn’t been able to meet its initial private-sector funding targets, citing, somewhat bizarrely, their opposition to contraceptive coverage for female employees under the Affordable Care Act.
Louisiana did the right thing, though; they asked Answers in Islam to submit a brand-new application, reflecting its updated numbers, projections, and plans. And then state officials began asking some tough questions, suggesting that it may require “impermissible state funding of religious indoctrination.” Officials were also concerned with key portions of its mission statement, which included lines such as “Allah is the one true God, and Mohammed is his prophet.” They also began to wonder if Answers in Islam’s project was merely a religious ministry disguised as a museum. They required that Answers in Islam could not hire or fire an employee on the basis of religion, and Answers in Islam, which is technically organized as a 501(c)(3) religious institution, rejected that requirement and, instead, claimed it had a right to religious preference in hiring.
But that wasn’t the biggest issue.
State officials became increasingly concerned about the group’s intention to “recruit visitors to join the jihad.” They alerted Answers in Islam that this type of religious messaging was problematic and could pose serious constitutional challenges, and they had a good point. The very first clause of the very first sentence of the First Amendment reads, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion.” By extension, state legislatures are, of course, also prohibited from establishing a religion, and officials now began to wonder whether the Quran Museum was actually a museum or really just a tax-payer funded super-mosque that would operate as a way of recruiting visitors to Islam.
The Jindal Administration ultimately decided not to provide a penny of incentives to Answers in Islam, and until recently, the project had appeared to be dead on arrival. That is, until local state Rep. Mike Johnson decided to take up the case and defend Answers in Islam through his public interest law firm, Freedom Something Something Something LLP.
I’ve just been told by my editor that I jumbled up all of the facts.
I’d wondered why I couldn’t find a single story about the $150 million taxpayer-subsidized Quran Museum in Bossier City. It seems like that would have made a headline or two, or four hundred.
The organization is not called Answers in Islam; it’s called Answers in Genesis.
They’re not seeking $18 million in incentives from Louisiana for a $150 million Quran Museum that will only hire Muslims and recruit visitors to join jihad.
They’re seeking $18 million in incentives from Kentucky for a $150 million Noah’s Ark “theme park” that will only hire Christians and recruit visitors to radical evangelicalism.
But at least I got one crucial detail right: Louisiana state Rep. Mike Johnson is, in fact, the attorney on this case.
Yes, Rep. Mike Johnson, the same Mike Johnson who has been in the news lately for his bill promoting bigotry in business under the pretense of religion, is also suing the state of Kentucky, on behalf of Answers in Genesis, for the $18 million in public dollars they need to build a replica of a big wooden boat (plus court costs and attorneys fees).
A couple of months ago, Mike Johnson sat down for an extended interview with Ken Ham, the founder and president of Answers in Genesis and a man who sincerely believes, despite the vast and overwhelming evidence definitively proving otherwise, that the entire universe is only 6,000 years old.
It’s really worth a watch: A man who doesn’t understand science but who has built his career pretending to be a scientist and a man who doesn’t understand the law but who has built his career pretending to be a constitutional law scholar. You can also read Rep. Johnson’s brief on behalf of Answers in Genesis here. (And yes, he does, in fact, blame “Obamacare’s” contraception coverage mandate for their failure to raise private equity to build a big boat).
If this case hasn’t already been dismissed after a summary judgment motion, then I hope it works out like this in oral arguments:
Johnson: May it please the court, my name is Mike Johnson, and I represent Answers in Genesis, who were unjustly denied $18 million in tax incentives by the state of Kentucky based entirely on their religious viewpoints. We believe–
Judge: Mr. Johnson, were your clients ever approved for those incentives?
Johnson: No, they were in the process of reapplying after their initial funding projections had to be readjusted.
Judge: Case dismissed. Verdict in favor of the defendant.
It’d be a great way to remind folks: You’re not automatically entitled to $18 million in public money just because you need that $18 million to build a monument to your delusional fantasyland. Unless you’re the NFL, of course.