The Kentucky legislature’s plan to spend $2 million on a road project benefitting a proposed “Ark Park” is constitutionally dubious and a waste of scarce taxpayer dollars, according to Americans United for Separation of Church and State.
The budget currently under consideration in the legislature includes the special transportation funding even though state officials are relentlessly looking for places to trim spending and the Ark Park may not even be built. Plans for opening the Ark Encounter, a biblical theme park in Grant County, have been repeatedly delayed due to lack of donations.
Said the Rev. Barry W. Lynn, Americans United executive director, “Legislators are desperately looking for ways to cut the budget, yet they are including $2 million to benefit the Ark Park. That’s an astonishing lapse in judgment. Taxpayers should never be forced to support a religious ministry, and it is particularly appalling to do so when essential public services are being cut.”
AU’s Lynn noted that the state constitution specifically bans use of taxpayer funds to support religion. Section 5 says taxpayers may not be forced to “contribute to the erection or maintenance” of any place of worship.
Lynn said some observers think the Ark Park may never open and the state funds spent on the Highway 36 road project may be a complete waste. He said it recalls the national controversy over the “bridge to nowhere,” a $400-million pork-barrel project in Alaska that Congress considered funding in 2005.
Said Lynn, “Legislators should not waste $2 million on a ‘road to nowhere.’ At a time when legislators have even voted down preschool funding for poor kids, this misuse of taxpayer dollars is utterly unacceptable.
“If the legislature leaves this money in the budget,” Lynn continued, “Gov. Steve Beshear should use the line-item veto to take it out. It would save scarce public resources and avoid constitutional problems. This appropriation of taxpayer money for religion would likely be struck down by the courts.”
The Ark Park, sponsored by Answers in Genesis, would purportedly feature a full-size replica of Noah’s Ark. A ground-breaking for the project, which is intended to promote a fundamentalist understanding of the Bible, has been repeatedly delayed, and media reports suggest the ministry has received less than $5 million of the $24.5 million sought to build the facility.
Americans United is a religious liberty watchdog group based in Washington, D.C. Founded in 1947, the organization educates Americans about the importance of church-state separation in safeguarding religious freedom.