The Tower of Babel is going to be built (or rebuilt, depending on your view of the historicity of the Bible)in Kentucky.
And that’s not all: the Ark Encounter theme park, slated to be constructed near Williamstown in the greater Cincinnati area and completed in 2014, will include a full-scale (presumably measuring 300 x 50x 30 cubits) “replica” of Noah’s Ark, as well as retail shops, a petting zoo, a first-century Middle Easternvillage, a walled city, and more.
The Ark Encounter is a project led by Answers in Genesis, proprietors of the infamous Creation Museumin nearby Petersburg and proponents of young Earth creationism, the belief that the god of the Bible created the Earth in six days, approximately 10,000 years before the present.
The Ark Encounter will indeed reflect this view in its features, for Answers in Genesis interprets the story of Noah and his ark literally. On their webpage you will find detailed articles explaining the answers to difficult questions such as how Noah was able to accomplish the greatest nautical feat of his time witha tiny crew of family members, and where all the extra water that flooded the earth went after the rain stopped. The answer always leads to the same point: it was possible, and it happened exactly the way thatthe book of Genesis describes it in those brief passages of chapters 6 through 9.
While nearly all humanists, and anyone who cares about scientific and historical accuracy, probably feels less than enthusiastic about the construction of a $172 million modern-day tribute to such an impossible tale, the taxpayers of the state of Kentucky have even more reason to be concerned. The Ark Encounter ispoised to reap approximately $40 million in tax rebates from the state, approved in a unanimous vote by the Kentucky Tourism Development Finance Authority on May 19.
This vote means that the Ark Encounter will receive a rebate on sales taxes collected on food, ticket, and merchandise sales at the park for ten years, allowing the project to recoup up to 25 percent of construction costs if it meets attendance and sales projections, according to a press release from Ark Encounter.
These sales tax rebates are a common tool of state and local governments for economic and tourism development. But while the state’s goal to promote job creation is laudable, by supporting Biblical creationism the tax rebates likely run afoul of the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment.Government entities cannot transfer resources to a wholly religious institution that is pushing such a strictly sectarian point of view. That $40 million could go a long way toward job creation in a purely secular context, but instead Kentucky is reinforcing the view that it is a center for old-fashioned Biblicalliteralism rather than scientific advancement.
The Ark Encounter enjoys the freedom of religion guaranteed by the First Amendment, but likewise, that same amendment limits the support for the project that the state of Kentucky can give. With the increasingly dim view that the federal courts are giving toward taxpayer standing,
I’m not so confident that a lawsuit by concerned citizens will be successful in stopping the tax rebates, but every Kentuckian who cares about the separation of church and state should let his or her legislators and governor know that they should invest state money in constitutionally appropriate projects that promote sound science and education.
Let them build the Ark park, but not on the taxpayer’s dime!