[Editor’s Note: This article has been updated as of February 16, 2012, to reflect the current status of the Ark Encounter project.]
In an informal TV debate on the Anderson Cooper 360 CNN program a few weeks ago, my opponent was Rev. Barry Lynn—head of Americans United for Separation of Church and State. My debate with this clergyman centered on the Ark Encounter, which will feature a full-scale, all-wood Noah’s Ark in Northern Kentucky. AiG will design and operate the attraction for a group called the Ark Encounter LLC.1
What appeared on TV was a little more than half of what was recorded in a studio. Frankly, such debates can be stressful, especially when you sit alone in a studio and talk to a camera—with bright lights shining in your eyes—and your opponent and moderator are in other studios. And, as usual, when you are done, you think of things you wished you had said.
Rev. Lynn’s main argument was that Kentucky was subsidizing religion if the state granted incentives to the Ark Encounter LLC. In the full debate, he went on to state (falsely) that if Kentucky grants the incentives, the state would not get the full money needed for education, fire stations, etc.
In order to counter this wrong impression that the Ark project will be a drain on Kentucky’s state revenues, I made it clear that the incentives are not a grant of state funds to help build the Ark Encounter. No funds will be taken from the state budget and away from its programs (e.g., social services, schools, etc.) to help construct or operate the Ark Encounter.
Who then pays? The key thing that is almost always omitted by the press and by Ark opponents like Rev. Lynn is that the only people to pay taxes related to operating the Ark project will be the Ark Encounter visitors. They will pay sales tax (e.g., on tickets, food, books, etc.), and the state will rebate a portion of the sales tax to the Ark Encounter LLC (based on meeting attendance-performance standards).
The reason the state has an economic tax incentive to attract tourist-related projects is to bring money into the state—which is exactly what the Ark Encounter will do. If we don’t build in the state and go elsewhere, Kentucky loses out on millions of dollars of revenue and sales tax. That’s why Kentucky has a Tourism Development Act—to bring in tourist dollars.
I tried my best to make the point that if there is no Ark Encounter in the state, there is no sales tax generated that is handed over to the state. I added that if the Ark Encounter attracts 1.6 million people in year one (as our independent study projected), it will have an economic impact in just the first year of around $250 million for Kentucky’s economy. And the state government collects all the sales tax outside the attraction (plus the payroll taxes) from businesses that will be created as a result of a major tourist destination being in the area.
I also pointed out during the TV debate that a 2009 ruling by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit (which includes Kentucky) declared that as long as such projects endorse “all qualified applicants,” they endorse “none of them, and accordingly [do not] run afoul of the federal or state religion clauses.”
Also, I indicated that Kentucky in no way is establishing a specific religious view that would be in violation of the U.S. Constitution’s establishment clause. The state will not be compelling anyone to visit the Ark Encounter. Furthermore, the Tourism Development Act does not discriminate according to the subject matter of a theme park. Thus there is no constitutional problem.
In fact, the nondiscriminatory aspect of the Act was even acknowledged by Bill Sharp of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) when he told USA Today (December 5, 2010) that “courts have found that giving such tax exemptions on a nondiscriminatory basis does not violate the establishment clause, even when the tax exemption goes to a religious purpose.”
Rev. Lynn kept repeating the misinformation that taxpayers will be footing the bill for the Ark and that the state is subsidizing the project—implying that money would come out of the state’s budget. It clearly does not. I don’t know whether Rev. Lynn was deliberately being deceptive or whether he just had not done his research.
Rev. Lynn, who has been on record as declaring he does not accept the Bible’s history as fully true, is against the Ark Encounter because it happens to be a themed attraction about biblical history—particularly the history in Genesis and its account of Noah’s Ark. He also mocked AiG’s position on six literal days of creation and dinosaurs being on the Ark. (See our article on page 3.) If anything, Rev. Lynn wants freedom from religion in the public arena.
This was yet another sad example of compromise in the church, where a member of the clergy goes on national TV and undermines the authority of God’s Word beginning in Genesis.
The whole debate really had nothing to do with the rebate incentive. As he mocked biblical history that evening, Rev. Lynn revealed that he doesn’t want the account of Noah’s Ark (believed by tens of millions of people in this country) to have a high profile. The irony is that as he opposes the Ark Encounter with his blatant discrimination, he gives the Ark even more national publicity for an attraction that has a theme which appeals to so many people. Just as we saw with our Creation Museum and the opposition it received years ago, we rejoice in the exposure we are already getting—even before construction starts!
Another irony is that the government is already supporting the religion of Secular Humanism to the tune of billions of dollars per year through tax-supported public schools/universities, science museums, zoos, PBS TV, etc.). Secular Humanism is an actual religion that denies the one true God and worships self or science (or other idols).2
The third irony is that here we have a man who calls himself a Reverend (associated with the United Church of Christ) who is opposing biblical Christianity and supporting Secular Humanism. Oh how the church needs to repent of such compromise.
Stand with us as we construct and “launch” this full-scale Ark to show the world that the Bible and its gospel message are true, starting with its very first book. Go to www.ArkEncounter.com.