The average American commentator would likely say of the Ark Encounter venture, under way in Kentucky, what Americans United for Separation of Church and State head Barry Lynn did in fact say:
“The state of Kentucky should not be promoting the spread of fundamentalist Christianity or any other religious viewpoint … Let these folks build their fundamentalist Disneyland without government help.”
After all, the project’s purpose is to prove that Noah could have fitted two of every animal onto the Ark.
Here are some constraints on any decision:
– Ark Encounter is a private, for-profit project. The investors hope to build on the proven success of Petersburg, Kentucky’s Creation Museum (1.2 million visitors in three years).
– The grant takes the form of a tax incentive (favorable tax rates), a common practice for attracting industries to tax jurisdictions.
– Gov. Steve Beshear favors the tax incentives because of a projected 600 to 700 full-time jobs in a state with current high unemployment, plus an economic impact of more than $250 million in its first year of operation.
– some have complained that these jobs would be low-wage, but the constraint in such a situation is: Would the Ark Park displace high wage jobs or displace unemployment?
– Would a Hindu theme park be treated differently for tax purposes? An Atheist Heroes theme park? If the response is, “They wouldn’t get the same amount of business,” doesn’t that demonstrate that it is strictly a business decision?
– constitutional law scholar Erwin Chemerinsky says
If this is about bringing the Bible to life, and it’s the Bible’s account of history that they are presenting, then the government is paying for the advancement of religion. And the Supreme Court has said that the government can’t advance religion.”
But in this case it’s the investors who are advancing religion. The government is – it seems, genuinely – to be backing the scheme to create jobs.
If the United States really were a theocracy, as some claim, this would never become an issue. There would be Good Religion and Bad Religion, and that’s how the decision would be made. But it’s not, so there is a dilemma. All of which shows that church-state issues are not for sissies.