A new myth-based fantasy theme park is coming to Kentucky. The park, which will be called Ark Encounter, promises to expose visitors to myths and fantasies that will rival those of Disneyland. The park’s main attraction will be a 500-foot long reproduction of the Bible’s Noah’s Ark. The park will also feature an ancient walled city (perhaps bringing to mind Jericho), a petting zoo, live animal shows featuring giraffes and elephants, and a full scale reproduction of the biblical Tower of Babel (as the park developers envision it).
The park has attracted some controversy, however, as some have argued that because it is a religiously-themed park, it should not qualify for state tax breaks and incentives, such as the Enterprise Initiative Act Tax Refund Program for which Kentucky Governor Steve Beshear has stated the park has applied. Governor Beshear argues there is nothing “remotely unconstitutional” about the proposal. He said the law does not allow the state to discriminate against a for-profit business based upon the product or subject matter of its products. The Governor compared the Ark park to NASCAR, arguing that not everyone loves NASCAR, but that did not stop him from authorizing tax incentives to help the Kentucky Speedway hold a Sprint Cup race next year.
The developers are cleverly attempting to avoid the church-state argument by establishing the Ark park as a for-profit business. Unlike many other faith-based organizations, establishing a for-profit business means the group will forfeit tax exempt status in the long term in exchange for job-creating tax breaks up front. Essentially, the Ark park is gaming the system to get its tax breaks at the beginning. The Ark Encounter website specifically notes that “the tax incentives do not go to non-profit AiG, but to the for-profit Ark Encounter LLC.”
But there should be no doubt that the Ark Encounter is a faith-based enterprise. Not only is the park centered on Biblical stories, but the park will be managed by fundamentalist Christian Creationist group Answers in Genesis, which also runs a Creation Museum park in Petersburg, Kentucky. The Answers in Genesis jobs website specifically states that in order to be eligible for employment at AiG or the Creation Museum:
“All job applicants need to supply a written statement of their testimony, a statement of what they believe regarding creation and a statement that they have read and can support the AiG statement of faith.”
As a taxpayer incentivized, for-profit business in Kentucky, the Ark Encounter will not be allowed to discriminate against employees on the basis of testimonies and declarations of faith as Answers in Genesis openly does at the Creation Museum. Only time will tell if the park will “unfortunately” be “forced” to convert to a not-for-profit, faith-based organization after it deals with the inevitable first volleys of discrimination lawsuits. (If it does, will it refund the tax incentives to the state?)
However, if the park’s developers and management are able to avoid employee religion-based discrimination pitfalls, it will most likely be successful in building the park. It will be interesting to observe whether the park declares its purpose as one of attempting to convince visitors of particular faith claims, or if they stick to the mission statements of other theme parks which center around simple entertainment and filing children’s heads with fantastic tales like those Disney productions that would never be physically possible in a world governed by science and physics.
And while Governor Beshear repeatedly touts the benefits of the park – investing $150 million to create jobs in Kentucky, bringing tourism to Kentucky, creating 900 full- and part-time jobs, an estimated annual impact of over $200 million on the state’s economy, and attracting 1.6 million visitors in its first year – I wonder if he’ll go the distance and compare this for-profit theme park to other mythological fantasy parks like Disneyland, Disney World, and the Wizarding World of Harry Potter. As long as the Governor and the park’s developers are on record as stating that this park makes no faith claims about religious truth, and is instead only another fantasy-based theme park like Disneyland, there should be no quarrel.
Filed under: christianity, government, satire | Tagged: answers in genesis, ark, ark experience, church, creation museum, disney world, disneyland, fundamentalist, governor, ken hamm, kentucky, literalist, noah, state, steve beshear, tourism | 16 Comments »