Ark Encounter Surrounded by Debate

on December 11, 2010

New York Times: “In Kentucky, Noah’s Ark Theme Park Is PlannedThe media has provided ongoing coverage of Ark Encounter, the new project co-sponsored by Answers in Genesis. And—no surprise—the project is increasingly surrounded by debate.

We introduced News to Note readers to Ark Encounter last week. The Noah’s Ark-centered theme park will be another family friendly vacation destination in northern Kentucky designed to complement our Creation Museum, about 40 miles to the south, combining “edu-tainment” with a presentation of historical events from the Old Testament.

... combining “edu-tainment” with a presentation of historical events from the Old Testament.

Most of the debate following the project’s announcement last week has concerned Kentucky Governor Steve Beshear’s support of the project—an alleged violation of the separation of church and state. But in the governor’s perspective, “The people of Kentucky didn’t elect me governor to debate religion. They elected me governor to create jobs.” Specifically, Ark Encounter stands to benefit from tax incentives—in the form of rebated sales taxes, offered after a project opens —designed to encourage investment and job creation in the commonwealth of Kentucky. Kentucky’s Tourism Development Act will help the project recoup investment costs through sales tax relief. (Some news reports erroneously refer to government “donations” to the project; for a refutation of the false reporting that the Ark Encounter will take money out of the state budget, see yesterday’s feedback article on our website, linked below.)

But does the law permit the government to extend tax incentives to a project which contains religious elements? The New York Times quotes William Dexter, general counsel for Kentucky’s tourism cabinet, and Erwin Chemerinsky, founding dean of the University of California–Irvine School of Law, on opposite sides of the issue.

We’re certainly not constitutional scholars at News to Note, but it seems to us that denying the Ark Encounter tax incentives—incentives that an otherwise equivalent non-religious project would get—would be an unconstitutional bias against religion. As the governor declared at his press conference, his state’s Tourism Development Act will not allow discrimination regarding a tourist attraction’s theme. We contend that to deny the Ark Encounter the sales tax rebate is akin to arguing that church vans can’t use publicly funded highways, or that water cleaned by publicly funded facilities can’t be served at the Creation Museum. The strong opposition begs the question: are opponents in Kentucky showing more concern about the themes that will be presented at Ark Encounter than they are about the 14,000 jobs created in the region when the project opens, but which may not materialize if Ark Encounter is not built in their high-unemployment state?

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Answers in Genesis is an apologetics ministry, dedicated to helping Christians defend their faith and proclaim the gospel of Jesus Christ effectively. We focus on providing answers to questions about the Bible—particularly the book of Genesis—regarding key issues such as creation, evolution, science, and the age of the earth.