Kentucky to grant tax incentives to ark park

The Kentucky Tourism Development Finance Authority voted unanimously on May 19, 2011, to grant tax incentives to Ark Encounter, according to the Associated Press (May 19, 2011). Ark Encounter is the proposed creationist theme park in northern Kentucky. According to the Louisville Courier-Journal (December 1, 2010), "Ark Encounter, which will feature a 500-foot-long wooden replica of Noah's Ark containing live animals such as juvenile giraffes, is projected to cost $150 million and create 900 jobs ... The park, to be located on 800 acres in Grant County off Interstate 75, also will include a Walled City, live animal shows, a replica of the Tower of Babel, a 500-seat special-effects theater, an aviary and a first-century Middle Eastern village." Collaborating on the project are Ark Encounter LLC and the young-earth creationist ministry Answers in Genesis, which already operates a Creation "Museum" in northern Kentucky.

The tax incentives will allow Ark Encounter to recoup 25 percent of its development costs by retaining the sales tax generated by the project. With the development costs of the park estimated at 150 million dollars, the incentives would amount to 37.5 million dollars over ten years. Whether it is consistent with the federal and Kentucky constitutions for the state to grant the incentives to the project is still not clear; Erwin Chemerinsky of the University of California, Irvine, School of Law told The New York Times (December 5, 2010) that "if it's the Bible's account of history that they’re presenting, then the government is paying for the advancement of religion," while Bill Sharp of the American Civil Liberties Union of Kentucky told USA Today (December 5, 2010), "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."

In a May 19, 2011, press release, the Reverend Barry Lynn, the executive director of Americans United for Separation of Church and State, declared, "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 said that Americans United would investigate whether the incentives violated the separation of church and state, but argued that the state's funding of the project was bad policy in any case. "[Governor] Beshear wants to launch this ark on a sea of tax breaks — money that will ultimately have to be made up by Kentucky taxpayers," Lynn said. "This misguided project deserves to sink." He added, "I feel sorry for the children of Kentucky. At a time when they should be learning modern science, their public officials are subsidizing fundamentalist religion."