Last week, Kentucky’s state tourism board approved up to $43 million in tax incentives for the operation of Ark Encounter, a creationist theme park.
The sales tax rebates, which could help offset costs for the $150 million project, were granted under the Kentucky Tourism Development Act. The state government’s website says that the act “allows eligible tourism attractions a rebate of sales tax up to 25% of project capitol costs over a 10 year period,” provided that projects have a positive economic impact.
Ark Encounter will include Noah’s Ark, the Tower of Babel, an ancient walled city, and other Biblical renditions. A Christian organization called Answers in Genesis heads the project that is scheduled to break ground in August and open in the spring of 2014. The organization also built the Creation Museum in Kentucky.
The proximity of state funds and religion is admittedly a bit dubious, but proponents of this project argue that the state will reap significant economic benefits, especially in terms of job creation. According to Gov. Steve Beshear the park, “is projected to create 600 to 700 full-time jobs and have an economic impact of more than $250 million in its first year of operation.”
But Americans United for Separation of Church and State raises the obvious question — what about that pesky little issue of church and state? You know, one of the tenets our country was built upon? In a statement, the group accused the state of “subsidizing fundamentalist religion” and criticized the decision to approve tax incentives for a religious endeavor, even one that may boost the economy. After all, will said park offer employment opportunities for non-fundamentalists?
Gil Lawson, of the Kentucky Tourism, Arts and Heritage Cabinet, told Talking Points Memo the law establishing tax incentives is neutral. “We treated this application like any other,” he said. “We can not discriminate against this project based on any religious criteria.”
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