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Should Kentucky’s government fund a Noah’s Ark theme park?

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The Ark

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.


Mung, you might not agree with the viewpoint being presented through the theme park, but that is not grounds for discrimination against it. The governor is to be commended for refusing to bow to all the criticism that comes mainly because people disagree with the message of the theme park. The separation of Church and State is a non-issue here. JGuy says: "There should be no issue with any organization receiving tax incentives." AGREED! tjguy
What I’d be interested to know is, can an atheist get a job there, as long as he works competently, gets along with people, and doesn’t diss the place?
Doubtful. From AiG themselves:
All job applicants for the non-profit ministry of AiG/Creation Museum need to supply a written statement of their testimony, a statement of what they believe regarding creation and a statement that they have read and can support the AiG statement of faith.
A statement of faith that starts
The scientific aspects of creation are important, but are secondary in importance to the proclamation of the gospel of Jesus Christ as Sovereign, Creator, Redeemer, and Judge.
I think that would give anyone pause before suggesting there won't be any discrimination. Even though the ark project is run by a for-profit company (who don't have any stated rule about what their employees should believe), that company is owned and managed by AiG, all of whose employees agree that the proclamation of the gospel is of primary importance. Heinrich
I think that our government has printed enough dollars to cover the earth and now we're drowning in debt. Mung
There might be an issue if taxes collected were re-distributed to other people's ideaologyies. However, tehse are apparently just tax incentivs. AND...I there hsould be no issue with any organisation receiving tax incentives... ESPECIALLY since taxes on what people receive in exchange for their hard labor is immoral anyway!! JGuy
My view is that it is not a separation of church and state issue, but I am not an American or a constitutional expert. If, for example, St. Joseph's Oratory, a massive historical religious complex and current prayer centre in downtown Montreal, Canada, were to require repairs that the Archdiocese could not afford, it would be proper for the government to step in and make them, due to both historical preservation and tourist traffic. It would be quite 'nother thing for the government to be giving money to local churches to spread the gospel. So it seems to me that the question turns on whether there is a legitimate secular objective . Kentucky's governor has made clear that he sees it as a jobs issue, which is - in these times - something he was probably elected to do. What I'd be interested to know is, can an atheist get a job there, as long as he works competently, gets along with people, and doesn't diss the place? That could be an interesting legal question. :) O'Leary
I think Noremacam has it right, and said it well... Personally, I'd go even further. I support the concept of state's rights to the degree that, if Kentucky so willed, it could support such an attraction directly. You only have to spend a little time in some old legal works to see this clearly - the concept of separation that Americans United for Separation of Church and State is using in an attempt to dominate and limit freedom of religious expression in America is a modern interpretation of, vesus the original intent of, the United States Constitution. arkady967
An article on the ark encounter site discussing the issue. http://arkencounter.com/articles/media/feedback-taxpayers-will-not-be-paying-build-ark-encounter/ Noremacam
When the state encourages religious instruction or cooperates with religious authorities by adjusting the schedule of public events to sectarian needs, it follows the best of our traditions. For it then respects the religious nature of our people and accommodates the public service to their spiritual needs. To hold that it may not would be to find in the Constitution a requirement that the government show a callous indifference to religious groups. That would be preferring those who believe in no religion over those who do believe. Zorach v. Clauson 343 U.S. 306 (1952) There is an unbroken history of official acknowledgement by all three branches of government of the role of religion in American life...The Constitution does not require a complete separation of church and state. It affirmatively mandates accommodation, not merely tolerance, of all religions and forbids hostility towards any. Lynch v. Donnelly 465 U.S. 668 (1984) The religious nature of a recipient should not matter to the constitutional analysis, so long as the recipient adequately furthers the government's secular purpose. If a program offers permissible aid to the religious (including the pervasively sectarian), the areligious, and the irreligious, it is a mystery which view of religion the government has established, and thus a mystery what the constitutional violation would be. The pervasively sectarian recipient has not received any special favor, and it is most bizarre that the Court would, as the dissent seemingly does, reserve special hostility for those who take their religion seriously. Mitchell v. Helms 530 U.S. 793 (2000) bevets
To clarify, when I say money they would have to pay in taxes, I'm referring to income money from tourists. Noremacam
The title is so misleading. The tax incentive doesn't help them build the ark. Neither does the government directly give them money. Instead the tax incentive basically means a portion of the money they would otherwise have to pay as taxes, they would be allowed to keep instead. This tax incentive is for tourism. If the Ark Park doesn't bring in the tourists, then they don't get the incentive or as much of it. So the government isn't paying to build the ark at all. The real question is does the government of Kentucky have the right to discriminate against religious tourist attractions, when any other tourist attraction with similar amounts of visitors would qualify for it. Noremacam
I think this is a fine idea, as long as they also have displays showing how each of the animals on the ark evolved to become the variety of species we see today. Mung
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.
I gather the relevant ruling is the Lemon test:
Three ... tests may be gleaned from our cases. First, the statute must have a secular legislative purpose; second, its principal or primary effect must be one that neither advances nor inhibits religion; finally, the statute must not foster an excessive government entanglement with religion.
and that failing on any one constitutes a failure. I can see how the first can be argued away, and perhaps the third (depending on details), but what about the second? I can't see how a Noah's Ark theme park does anything other than advance religion, so supporting it has a principal effect of advancing religion. Heinrich

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