Ark Park Earmark: Kentucky Governor Floats Religion-Funding Scheme

Kentucky Gov. Steve Beshear thinks it’s a good idea for his state to be the home of Noah’s Ark – one that will include dinosaurs!

Beshear announced yesterday his plan to provide tax incentives to the developers of a creationism theme park that will feature a replica of the well-known biblical boat.

The $150 million facility will be a collaboration between Ark Encounters, a private company in Springfield, Mo., and Answers in Genesis, a fundamentalist Christian organization that runs the Creation Museum that opened in Kentucky in 2007.

The park’s developers have searched the country for the best spot for their project. With Beshear’s plan to offer tax incentives that could surpass $37 million, it’s likely they’ve settled on the location where they will get the best deal --  800 acres in Grant County, Ky.

In addition to the 500-foot-by-75-foot wooden ark, the park will include live animals, a Walled City much like that found in ancient times, a children’s interactive play area, a replica of the Tower of Babel with exhibits, a 500-seat 5-D special-effects theater, an aviary and a first-century Middle Eastern village.

"I think it's fair to say we are all very positive, initially, about this application, and we don't really see any problems in getting it approved," Beshear said, claiming his support for the project is based on the supposed 900 jobs the park will create and has nothing to do with his religious beliefs.

Tourism laws allow developers to recover up to 25 percent of the cost of a project through a rebate on the sales tax paid by visitors on admission tickets, food, gift purchases and lodging costs. Beshear believes the project will attract 1.6 million visitors a year and have a $214 million economic impact in the first year.

With these potential benefits to the state, Beshear may not have any trouble getting the tax break package approved, but that doesn’t mean it’s not a mistake of biblical proportions.

Americans United Executive Director Barry W. Lynn told the Associated Press why.

"It's perfectly fine for a private group to relaunch Noah's ark, but the governor shouldn't go along for the ride," he said. "The government should not be giving tax incentives for religious projects. Religion should be supported by voluntary donations, not the government."

And AU’s Lynn is not the only one raising an objection.

The Louisville Courier-Journal has called on Beshear to take a vacation – claiming that “extreme fatigue” is the only way he would think this project was a good idea.

“Even if technically legal (in that the law allowing the tax breaks doesn't discriminate against other religious or anti-religious views),” the newspaper said in an editorial published today, “a state role in a private facility that would be built by a group called Answers in Genesis and espouses a fundamentalist view resting on biblical inerrancy indirectly promotes a religious dogma. That should never be the role of government.”

Putting the constitutional issue aside, Beshear’s support of the park is still cause for concern. Beshear, as a government official, should be encouraging sound science education. Advocating that we teach children that the earth is only 6,000 years old and that dinosaurs and humans coexisted is hardly what science experts advocate.

Unfortunately, subsidies like the tax breaks Beshear suggests have been difficult to challenge in court, and judicial rulings turn on many factors. Still, Americans United’s legal experts will be watching the situation carefully.

Stay tuned.