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Creationism theme park controversy continues

Ark Encounter, the proposed creationist theme park in northern Kentucky, continues to attract comment. According to the Louisville Courier-Journal (December 1, 2010), "Ark Encounter, which will feature a 500-foot-long wooden replica of Noah’s Ark containing live animals such as juvenile giraffes, is projected to cost $150 million and create 900 jobs ... The park, to be located on 800 acres in Grant County off Interstate 75, also will include a Walled City, live animal shows, a replica of the Tower of Babel, a 500-seat special-effects theater, an aviary and a first-century Middle Eastern village." Collaborating on the project are Ark Encounters LLC and the young-earth creationist ministry Answers in Genesis, which already operates a Creation "Museum" in northern Kentucky.

Whether the project will be able to benefit from the state tourism development incentives for which its organizers have applied is still disputed. Erwin Chemerinsky of the University of California, Irvine, School of Law told The New York Times (December 5, 2010), "If this is about bringing the Bible to life, and it’s the Bible’s account of history that they’re presenting, then the government is paying for the advancement of religion." Bill Sharp of the American Civil Liberties Union of Kentucky, however, was not so dismissive, telling USA Today (December 5, 2010), "Courts have found that giving such tax exemptions on a nondiscriminatory basis does not violate the establishment clause, even when the tax exemption goes to a religious purpose."

A different potential constitutional barrier was identified by Joseph Gerth, who argued in his column for the Louisville Courier-Journal (December 6, 2010), "If there is a constitutional problem with the incentives, the problem may be more with the Kentucky Constitution, which says no one should be 'compelled to attend any place of worship, to contribute to the erection or maintenance of any such place, or to the salary or support of any minister of religion.'" As the Courier-Journal (December 1, 2010) previously noted, there are also legal concerns about whether Ark Encounter could discriminate on the basis of religion in hiring; Answers in Genesis already requires its employees to endorse its statement of faith.

Broader concerns about the state's entanglement with the project persist, too. Writing in the Louisville Courier-Journal (December 5, 2010), Pam Platt regretted "the inevitable jokes." But after reviewing various challenges and obstacles to the integrity of education in the United States, she concluded, "So let us not consider Kentucky, and its real and perceived backwardness, apart and separate from our 49 fellow states and from the whole of the country. Yes, the proposed creationism park reinforces unfortunate stereotypes about Kentucky and Kentuckians, some of them true, but the points I assembled about the United States ought to be provoking a lot of questions about who Americans are and where, exactly, we're heading."