Noah's ark lands in midst of state and church separation debate
The ship that saved "two of each" species from a worldwide flood, according to the Bible, has been discovered a number of times over the years. The last discovery placed Noah's ark on the top of Mount Ararat in eastern Turkey.
Now, if the governor of Kentucky has his way, American tourists will be able to find the ark much closer to home. Gov. Steven L. Beshear announced on Wednesday that the Kentucky government would provide tax incentives to a group planning on constructing a Noah's ark theme park called "Ark Encounter."
A full-size version of the ship, replete with actors and animals, would rise in Grant County, just 45 miles away from the Creation Museum, where life-size dioramas have humans coexisting with dinosaurs. The park is planned to open in 2014.
The New York Times says some constitutional experts have questioned the governor's tax incentives, wondering if the move violates the First Amendment's requirement of separation of church and state.
"The people of Kentucky didn't elect me governor to debate religion," Beshear said to the New York Times in a news conference. "They elected me governor to create jobs."
The Creation Museum, was built by the same group, Answers in Genesis, behind Ark Encounter. The Web site reports that in the past three years, 1.2 million guests have visited the Creation Museum.
The tourist attraction will cost $125 million to build, and the group could receive up to $37.5 million back under the tax incentive plan.
Mike Zovath, co-founder of Answers in Genesis, said in a phone interview that the company was not concerned about this being a constitutional issue. "It's a for-profit company. The state is incentivizing economic growth and job creation, it's not incentivizing religious opinion." He said the government of Kentucky and his company had run the legal issues by a number of experts and that, in fact, the state would be discriminating if they did not offer the company the tax incentive.
| December 6, 2010; 11:10 AM ET
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