Kentucky Governor Green Lights Noah’s Ark Park

Gov. Steve Beshear

Kentucky Gov. Steve Beshear

“Sometimes, you’ve got to laugh to keep from crying,” my grandmother, God rest her soul, used to say.

So it is with a $150 million Noah’s Ark theme park developers want to build in Grant County, 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 as much as $37.5 million in tourism development incentives. Some of the developers are from Answers in Genesis, the group that runs the Creation Museum in Boone County, not far from the proposed ark park site.

“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 Louisville Courier-Journal 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.

This 61-year-old life long Kentuckian is glad to add a Presbyterian “amen” to Lynn’s analysis. Besides, I don’t like the idea of tax money being used, however indirectly, to promote anybody’s religion, including the Presbyterian faith.

The Louisville paper also said that when the incentives are made official, Americans United will decide whether to take the state to court.

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.

“It’s Kentucky .” Here we go again.

The Creation Museum has been rightly ridiculed by scientists and others – including many Kentucky Christians — who don’t think evolution is “evil-lution.”

The Creation Museum pushes phony “creation science.” Exhibits claim that people and dinosaurs lived on the earth at the same time, like on “The Flintstones.”

No doubt, the ark park will similarly reflect bumper sticker theology commonly seen in Kentucky . The “God said it. I believe it. That settles it” sticker comes to mind.

Hey, “It’s Kentucky .”

Anyway, promoters of the ark park claim it will create hundreds of jobs and attract thousands of tourists – doubtless multitudes with “God said it…” or like-themed stickers on their bumpers.

Meanwhile, a recent Lexington Herald-Leader editorial doubted that 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:

“…These 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.

“Hostility to science, knowledge and education does little to attract the kind of employers that will provide good-paying jobs with a future.

“Anyone who wants to believe in a literal interpretation of the Bible has that right.

“However, 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.

“Neither is appealing.”

Nor is the prospect of the ark park making Kentucky a national laughingstock yet again.

The snickering has started already. Jay Leno suggested on TV that the ark park is “part of Kentucky ’s plan to knock Mississippi out of last place in education.”

Berry CraigA recent newsletter from Answers in Genesis provides more joke fodder: “Noah was at least 500 years old when he received instructions for the Ark , and after centuries of righteous living, he could have acquired considerable financial resources.”

If our governor gets his way, “considerable financial resources” are coming from the state. Beshear could call the windfall “manna from Frankfort .”

No doubt, the governor sees himself as a man of righteous living. I suspect he hopes a lot of heretofore Republican-voting religious rightists will, too, now that he’s pro-ark park.

Berry Craig

Published by the LA Progressive on December 10, 2010
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About Berry Craig

Berry Craig is an emeritus professor of history at the West Kentucky Community and Technical College in Paducah and a freelance writer. He is a member of American Federation of Teachers Local 1360, the recording secretary for the Western Kentucky Area Council, AFL-CIO, and the author of True Tales of Old-Time Kentucky Politics: Bombast, Bourbon and Burgoo, Hidden History of Kentucky in the Civil War, Hidden History of Kentucky Soldiers and Hidden History of Western Kentucky. He is a native of Mayfield, Ky., where he lives with his wife of 33 years and their 20-year-old son.