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Kentucky’s Ark Encounter

Creationism Theme Park Takes Shape With Help From State Taxpayers

By Avi Milgrom,, December 9, 2011

(Page 3 of 5)

Within the Creation Museum there is a recurring theme that G--d's word is to be compared to human reason. Here the concern is fossil formation. Photo by A. Milgrom.

For many in the scientific community, especially science educators, creationism represents movement backward toward the Dark Ages. There is much to support this fear in the Creationism Museum: It pits "God's word" against "human reason" -- a frontal attack on science.

One example is the museum's explanation of fossils:
God's Word: Fossil layers were formed by Noah's Flood (?4350 years ago) and its aftermath.
Human Reason: Fossil layers were formed by present processes over millions of years.

Furthering the educators' fears is the wide use of animals in both projects. This is an active effort to attract children, according to Annie Laurie Gaylor, co--president of the Freedom From Religion Foundation, a critic of the projects.

Part III: After the announcement, many condemned Kentucky's actions

Although the story broke in November 2010 in Louisville's Business Courier of Louisville, it didn't begin its rise to a national story until the following month when MSNBC reported on December 1, 2010 that Kentucky Governor Steve Beshear had announced in a press conference "a full-scale replica of Noah's Ark will be the biggest feature of a creationism-themed amusement park expected to open in 2014."

The project was expected to cost $150 million -- it's now around $170 million -- and would be built on 800 acres in Grant County, Kentucky, about 40 miles south of Cincinnati, by a for-profit organization called "Ark Encounter LLC" in partnership with the 501(c)(3), Answers in Genesis, who would manage the park.

Beshear then lit the match: His government had offered the developers 25 percent of their development costs over 10 years through rebates of the projects sales tax.

In his 2010 capitol press conference, Governor Steve Beshear characterized the project as a much-needed source of jobs. He touted an additional 900 jobs with a $214 million dollar boost to the economy in the park's first year of operation, according to the developer's projections. In order to make the attractive to Kentucky -- the developers had been looking at sites in Indiana and Ohio -- he would be willing to consider state tax incentives.

Beshear, who faced re-election in November 2011 -- and won -- marginalized those who objected to the project on religious grounds, according to a story that followed a few days later by the Associated Press. "The people of Kentucky didn't elect me governor to debate religion, he said. "They elected me to create jobs. That's what we're doing here, and that's what we're going to continue to do." Indeed, his campaign website touts job creation yet neither mentions the Ark nor reports job creation in any single project in excess of 290 jobs in a long list of job-creation efforts.

Both a state representative and the Grant County executive echoed the same sentiments. According to Judge-Executive Darrell Link said, "With every ark there is a rainbow and at the end of this rainbow is a pot of gold," according to MSNBC.

As the 47th poorest state in the country in terms of per capita income, and with unemployment at nearly 10 percent, Kentucky does need jobs. Indeed the 10 percent is likely in addition to the traditionally high structural unemployment that is not tracked by the government. In Grant County, unemployment "hovers near 11 percent" according to an NPR broadcast. However, most of the high unemployment in the state is in southeastern Kentucky, many miles from the Northern Kentucky county selected by the developers.

Beshear's announcement set off the first wave of protests to the park; all objections to the apparent state support of a particular religion in violation of the First Amendment of the US Constitution.

The Rev. Barry W. Lynn, executive director of Americans United for Separation of Church (AU) and State voiced a position that was carried by a number of media outlets, "It's perfectly fine for a private group to relaunch Noah's ark, but the governor shouldn't go along for the ride. The government should not be giving tax incentives for religious projects. Religion should be supported by voluntary donations, not the government."

A few days later, Louisville's Courier Journal reported that Lynn pushed his argument further: "Evangelism is not just another business, and if the business is evangelism then constitutional rules are quite different than if you are subsidizing the opening of a new beauty salon.

In December 2010, ABC reported a similar opinion, this time from a constitutional scholar at the University of California Irvine School of Law, Erwin Chemerinsky: "A private company can build a theme park about the Bible. But the government shouldn't be using its money to advance religion. That's what's unconstitutional about this," he said. "It's wrong to force people to pay tax dollars to support religions they don't belong to."

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