The Ark Encounter project received final approval last week for the tax incentives it had sought. Project opponents threatened to sue to block it.
Ark Encounter tax incentives
On the afternoon of May 19, the Kentucky Tourism Development Finance Authority voted unanimously to grant as much as $43 million in rebates of sales taxes on ticket and concession sales at the proposed Ark Encounter project during the first ten years of its operation. The KTDFA offers such rebates to any major tourist attraction that anyone plans to build in Kentucky. The builders must show that their project will create enough jobs and attract enough money-spending visitors from out-of-State.
The KDTFA wanted to know whether Ark Encounter would boost the State’s economy, as its developers say it will. But several groups and institutions say that the KDTFA has no business granting such rebates to any project with a religious theme. They say that these rebates are no different from a subsidy—a direct cash grant. And if the State helps a religious-themed project in any way, shape or form, it is “establishing religion.” That, they say, would go against the State and United States Constitutions.
Ark Encounter description
Ark Encounter will be a 160-acre theme park built around a full-scale replica of Noah’s Ark. Most Ark replicas are very large boxes with three levels. Ark Encounter’s replica will actually look like a ship’s hull. It will also have a protruding bow skeg and stern sail. The wooden war galleys that might have participated in the Trojan War had these features. Tim Lovett (Noah’s Ark: Thinking Outside the Box) designed the replica. He has always thought that the first wooden ships that men built after the Great Flood copied these features from Noah’s Ark. To Lovett, Noah’s Ark was the greatest feat of naval architecture of its time and certainly the most important ship ever built. (Without it, neither you nor your editor would be alive today.)
In addition, Ark Encounter will have two petting zoos, an aviary, and life-sized architect’s concepts of:
- A pre-Flood city,
- Noah’s house, and
- The Tower of Babel.
Ark Encounter LLC, the private group behind the project, announced the project in December of last year. They filed a feasibility study with the KDTFA. That body commissioned its own feasibility study from Hunden Strategic Partners. Their study said that if Ark Encounter does what it says it will, then it might attract 1.2 million out-of-State visitors in its first year, bring in $119 million in business, and produce $64.6 million in taxes over ten years, taxes that the State would not otherwise collect. To do this, Ark Encounter must include original material and not merely rehash the exhibits of the Creation Museum to the south.
Groundbreaking will occur in August of 2011 in Williamstown, Grant County, Kentucky. It will open in 2014.
Ark Encounter opposition
The Rev. Barry Lynn, head of Americans United for the Separation of Church and State, was very upset with Kentucky authorities for their decision.
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.
Lynn threatened to sue over the tax-incentive decision.
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The US Constitution’s First Amendment says in part,
Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, nor prohibiting the free exercise thereof…
The Fourteenth Amendment says in part,
No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States.
Whether Lynn’s group can show in court that granting a tax rebate to a new tourist attraction that happens to have a religious theme somehow “abridges the privileges and immunities” of citizens and lawful residents of Kentucky is unclear. Lynn’s argument is this:
[Kentucky Governor Steve] Beshear wants to launch this ark on a sea of tax breaks – money that will ultimately have to be made up by Kentucky taxpayers. This misguided project deserves to sink.
Lynn is wrong. Without Ark Encounter, the real estate where it will rest would generate no tax income. Nor has Lynn suggested what other kind of project could bring in $119 million in new business. This is key, because to win any lawsuit, Lynn has to show that the tax rebates will cost the State money that it could otherwise spend. Without such an “injury in fact,” Lynn would have no standing in court.
Ark Encounter LLC has sought no federal grant, so Congress has not passed any law that would apply here.
The University of Kentucky biology department has also criticized the project, as have many other anti-creation groups. They all say that the Flood did not occur, and that any suggestion that it did occur is willfully deceptive. They complain that Ark Encounter will stunt the growth of children’s ability to reason, and will make people laugh at Kentucky and think that the State’s people are anti-scientific rubes.
Terry A. Hurlbut has been a student of politics, philosophy, and science for more than 35 years. He is a graduate of Yale College and has served as a physician-level laboratory administrator in a 250-bed community hospital. He also is a serious student of the Bible, is conversant in its two primary original languages, and has followed the creation-science movement closely since 1993.
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