“Sometimes, you’ve got to laugh to keep from crying,” my Presbyterian grandmother, God rest her soul, used to say.
So it is with a $150 million Noah’s Ark theme park proposed for my native Kentucky. The project, called “Ark Encounter,” would feature, among other Bible-based attractions, a 500-foot wooden ark filled with live animals.
The developers are Christian conservatives who want state government to help subsidize the ark park with tourism development incentives that could add up to a hefty $37.5 million over 10 years, according to the Louisville Courier-Journal. Some of the developers are from Answers in Genesis, the group that runs the Creation Museum in Boone County, not far from the Grant County site chosen for the ark park.
“The tax incentives have sparked debate among experts on church-state issues as to whether they would violate the constitutional ban on the establishment of religion by government,” the Courier-Journal also reported.
“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,” the Courier-Journal quoted Barry Lynn, executive director of Americans United for the Separation of Church and State.
Permit this 61-year-old Kentuckian to add a Presbyterian “amen” to Lynn’s analysis.
The Louisville paper also said that when the incentives are made official, Americans United will decide whether to take the state to court over them.
Anyway, I remembered my grandmother’s observation when I heard Gov. Steve Beshear had endorsed the ark park. I thought about her words again when Chris Hayes, the Nation magazine’s Washington editor, talked about the project on the “Countdown with Keith Olbermann” TV show.
“I was a little surprised a Democratic governor is doing this,” Hayes said to a guest. “It’s Kentucky,” the guest replied.
Both burst into laughter. I cringed.
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“It’s Kentucky.” Here we go again.
The Creation Museum, which pushes phony “creation science,” has been rightly ridiculed by scientists and others, including many Kentucky Christians, who don’t think evolution is “evil-lution.”
Anyway, promoters of the ark park, which would also be anti-evolution, claim it will create hundreds of jobs and attract thousands of tourists.
A Lexington Herald-Leader editorial expressed skepticism about the park, while doubting the incentives would breach “the wall of separation of church and state.”
I prayerfully disagree.
But I’ll chip in another Presbyterian “amen'” to the editorial’s conclusion.
“[T]hese incentives could have been awarded without Gov. Steve Beshear’s public embrace of an expansion of the Creation Museum – a project rooted in outright opposition to science,” said the editorial. “Hostility to science, knowledge and education does little to attract the kind of employers that will provide good-paying jobs with a future.”
The editorial said, “Anyone who wants to believe in a literal interpretation of the Bible has that right.”
However, the editorial added that “the way the Beshear administration handled this makes it appear Kentucky either embraces such thinking or is desperate to take advantage of those who do.”
It concluded: “Neither is appealing.”
The prospect of the ark park making Kentucky a national laughingstock again isn’t appealing either.
The same “it’s Kentucky” snickering, head-shaking and eye-rolling we Kentuckians have had to endure over the Creation Museum is well under way with the ark park.
Jay Leno suggested on TV that the park is “part of Kentucky’s plan to knock Mississippi out of last place in education.”
The Ark Encounter would be a close encounter of the worst kind for Kentucky, like the Creation Museum up the road.
Berry Craig is a native Kentuckian, a professor of history at the West Kentucky Community and Technical College in Paducah.