Extending summer vacation for the sake of creationism?

08.18.2015

Will Kentucky extend the duration of summer vacation in order to enable students to attend a creationist attraction? Two state senators plan to file a bill that would "prevent schools from starting earlier than the first Monday closest to Aug. 26," according to the Grant County News (August 12, 2015), in the hope of boosting tourist spending. Damon Thayer (R-District 17), the prospective sponsor of the bill along with Chris Girdler (R-District 15), told the newspaper, "Grant County is set to become a major tourist destination due to the presence of the Ark."

Thayer was referring to Ark Encounter, a Noah's-ark-themed attraction under construction by the young-earth creationist ministry Answers in Genesis, which also operates a "museum" in Kentucky. In 2011, the Kentucky Tourism Development Finance Authority voted to grant tax incentives — in the form of retained sales taxes — to the Ark Encounter project, but that decision was reversed in 2014, as NCSE previously reported. Answers in Genesis and its allies are currently suing the state in federal court over the reversal: the case is Ark Encounter, LLC et al v. Stewart et al.

Educators in Kentucky have reportedly been cool to the idea of the state requiring local schools to start later in the year, citing both the ideal of local control of education and the danger of impairing student learning. Chris Brady, a member of the Jefferson County School Board, told Insider Louisville (August 14, 2015), "Tourism is important to the state, but it's not as important as education. And these decisions are made with the kids' best education interest in mind. I'm sensitive to the fact that we want to boost our tourism, but not at the expense of our kids' education."

Simon Brown of Americans United for Separation of Church and State commented on the organization's blog (August 18, 2015), "It is long past time for Kentucky's lawmakers to stop assisting the Ark Park in every way possible because it is a First Amendment issue when government props up a project with a clear religious mission. And if Ham's attraction will be as popular as he claims, he won't need any help from taxpayers. But if politicians like Thayer and Girdler insist on keeping the Ark Park afloat, they will find themselves embroiled in more controversy."