No Kentucky Tax Credits for “Ark Encounter”

Nothing excites me more than the conjunction of bad economic development policies with secularized religious conservatism, so the latest saga in this story from Kentucky (via Joe Sonka of Insider Louisville) was catnip to me:

Kentucky’s Tourism Arts & Heritage Cabinet Secretary Bob Stewart informed representatives of the proposed Ark Encounter tourist attraction today that their project will not be eligible for up to $18 million in tax incentives from the state, due to their refusal to pledge not to discriminate in hiring based on religion.

“As you know, since the filing of the original incentive application in 2010, we have strongly supported this project, believing it to be a tourism attraction based on biblical themes that would create significant jobs for the community,” wrote Stewart in a letter to Ark Encounter’s attorney. “However, based on various postings on the Answers in Genesis (AIG) and Ark Encounter websites, reports from Ark Encounter investor meetings and our correspondence, it is readily apparent that the project has evolved from a tourism attraction to an extension of AIG’s ministry that will no longer permit the Commonwealth to grant the project tourism development incentives.”

AiG, as some of you may recall, is the Ken Ham organization responsible for Kentucky’s infamous Creation Museum, known especially for promoting the fundamentalist idea that dinosaurs and humans co-inhabited a “young earth.” Ark Encounter was a similarly intentioned exercise in fundamentialist/creationist agitprop, but initially received support from Gov. Steve Beshear for its eligibility for job creation [not creation jobs!] tax credits as a new tourist attraction. But thanks to aggressive inquiries from opponents of the project, AiG was forced to admit it did indeed intend the project to serve a religious proselytization purpose, and did not indeed intend to eschew employment discrimination on the basis of religion, as prior interpretations of the state constitution suggested for people receiving tax credits. So here we are, with the state saying “no” to tax credits, and AiG complaining of religious persecution.

The real bottom line here is once again to draw much-needed attention to the gross outrage associated with people who demand public tax subsidies for private religious activities without compliance with basic public policies binding on everyone else using your and my tax dollars. It’s beyond me how Ham and company can claim “persecution” for having to raise their own damn money in order to practice bigotry along with their propagation of ignorance about both biology and religion. But perhaps their hijinks–and the second thoughts of the Commonwealth of Kentucky–will convince people to take a fresh look at use of tax dollars for dubious economic development efforts as well as for dubious presentations of Christianity.

Ed Kilgore

Ed Kilgore, a Monthly contributing editor, is a columnist for the Daily Intelligencer, New York magazine’s politics blog, and the managing editor for the Democratic Strategist.