A group of private investors and religious organizations is hoping to build a Bible-themed amusement park in Kentucky, complete with a full-size 500-foot-by-75-foot reproduction of Noah’s Ark, a Tower of Babel, and other biblical exhibits on a 800-acre campus outside of Williamstown, KY. Their effort got a shot in the arm yesterday when the state approved $43 million in tax breaks for the project. In addition to the tax incentives, approved unanimously by the state’s tourism board, taxpayers may have to pony up another $11 million to improve a highway interchange near the site.
Naturally, this raises serious questions about the separation of church and state. Americans United for the Separation of Church and State has threatened to sue the state over its promotion of the religious project:
“The state of Kentucky should not be promoting the spread of fundamentalist Christianity or any other religious viewpoint,” said the Rev. Barry W. Lynn, executive director of Americans United. “Let these folks build their fundamentalist Disneyland without government help.”
Gov. Steve Beshear (D) has been a strong proponent of the $150 million project, even holding a press conference at the Capitol yesterday to tout the state’s involvement. Saying there’s nothing “remotely unconstitutional” about taxpayers incentivizing the Ark park, Beshear said, “The people of Kentucky didn’t elect me governor to debate religion. They elected me governor to create jobs.” Daniel Phelps, a geologist and president of the Kentucky Paleontological Society, called the governor’s support of the proposal “embarrassing for the state.”
Beyond constitutional issues, the tax breaks for an amusement park come at a time when state leaders are asking residents to sacrifice as they cut important social programs. “The state has gone through eight rounds of budget cuts over the past three years,” including cuts to “education at all levels” and a pay freeze for all teachers and state workers. Meanwhile, the state cut funding for Medicaid by shifting enrollees to managed care plans, which often make it more difficult for enrollees to access care while increasing administrative costs by up to 20 percent by adding a new “layer of bureaucracy between the Medicaid Department and providers.”
And while developers say the economic benefits of the Ark park will make up for the cost of the tax breaks — pointing to Kentucky’s recently opened Creation Museum — not all are convinced. Indeed, after lengthy consideration, Tennessee declined to give tax breaks to a similar proposed project, Bible Park USA, concerned that it was not a sound investment of taxpayer dollars.
Perhaps proponents of taxpayers subsidizing Bible theme parks forgot the gospel of Matthew, who wrote, “Render unto Caesar the things which are Caesar’s, and unto God the things that are God’s.”