A state contractor has concluded that Ark Encounter, a Bible theme park that is generating much controversy, has met Kentucky's requirements to receive $43 million in tax incentives. Additionally, taxpayers may have to pony up another $11 million to improve a highway interchange near the site. The 800-acre park, scheduled to open in 2014, will include a 500-foot model of Noah's Ark and a replica of the Tower of Babel. It is operated by Answers in Genesis, which also runs a nearby creation museum.
Americans United for Separation of Church and State says that Kentucky is "subsidizing fundamentalist religion," and says it will investigate whether the tax package violates the constitutional separation of church and state.
"Let these folks build their fundamentalist Disneyland without government help," said Rev. Barry W. Lynn, executive director of Americans United, according to CBN News. "They want to launch this ark on a sea of tax breaks - money that will ultimately have to be made up by Kentucky taxpayers. I feel sorry for the children of Kentucky. At a time when they should be learning modern science, their public officials are subsidizing religion."
This comes at a time when Kentucky residents are already saying goodbye to important social programs that are being cut. Over the past three years, the state has gone through eight rounds of budget cuts, including education-related cuts and a pay freeze for all teachers and state workers, notes thinkprogress.org. The state has also cut funding for Medicaid by shifting enrollees to managed care plans, which sometimes makes it more difficult for enrollees to access care and increases administrative costs by up to 20 percent, according to thinkprogress.
If those facts aren't warning enough that giving taxpayer money away to the ark folks might be a bad idea, Kentucky Gov. Steve Beshear, a strong proponent of this project, could learn by example: Next door, Tennessee declined to give tax breaks to Bible Park USA, which was a similar proposed project. According to news reports, many residents of Murfreesboro, Tenn., felt that cherished natural land should not be destroyed for the sake of building a money-making theme park.
Local Murfreesboro church pastor Bryan Brooks enjoys the natural backdrop of trees and pastures behind Blackman United Methodist Church, the New York Times reported. He told the Times, "Would I rather look at a theme park or would I rather look at the farmland and the forest here? I would pick the latter."
Though Beshear says the Kentucky theme park will create many jobs, another way of looking at it is that it takes funds from things like science and education for the sake of promoting religion.
Kentucky resident Allen Thacker, who runs a blog called the Bowling Green Church and State Examiner, called Beshear's move an "affront to constitution and science." Thacker described the nature of the park as offensive to 500 years of biology, physics and geology. He wrote, "If a group wishes to champion such scientific ignorance, it should be required to do so without government welfare."
Thacker summed up the issue by saying, "At a time when America is watching its title as the world's leading economic superpower contested by China, and doubt in evolution is at a shocking 78 percent compared to 20 percent in Western Europe, such church and state line-walking seems not only economically frivolous and constitutionally challenging, but also dangerous to our economic future."
Photo: An image from the Ark Encounter website offers a fanciful portrayal of the construction of Noah' s Ark. A 500-foot model of the ark is planned for the Ark Encounter theme park, which is to receive millions of dollars in tax incentives.