Has the Ark Encounter hit a sandbar? Many believe so.
The Ark Encounter is a proposed theme park in Tennessee featuring a 500 foot long Ark and the story of Noah as its centerpiece. The parent organization, Answers in Genesis, a Kentucky-based Christian ministry, is also responsible for the Creation Museum in Petersburg, Kentucky. Its founder, apologist Ken Ham, is well known in the religious and non-religious communities as a fundamentalist believing in the inerrant word of the Bible. His debates with Bill Nye are a favorite on YouTube.
When first promoted to the state of Tennessee in 2010, Ham promised that the park would not discriminate on employment based on religion. In July of 2014, Tennessee gave a preliminary authorization of tax credits of $18 million. The key word here is “preliminary,” for the credits had not been finalized by the powers that be.
Ham evidently reneged on his promise, asking if potential hires were Christians. This seemingly small question is a violation of law except when a religious organization is involved. Because of this qualifier, the state withdrew its support. Tourism Secretary Bob Stewart, in rejecting the proposed tax incentives wrote that Tennessee’s tax incentives, “cannot be used to fund religious indoctrination or otherwise be used to advance religion.”
However, even if Tennessee does not provide the tax credits but provides support in other ways there still would be the problem of the First Amendment’s “Establishment Clause.” Regardless of the method of hiring, the park represents a religious ideology that is a vital part of the Christian fundamentalist outreach; to show that the Bible is inerrant. In fact, Ham ‘s organization went further than that simple statement.
According to the Huffington Post, “The planned Ark Encounter park has evolved from a tourism attraction into an outreach for the Christian ministry.” Like the Creation Museum, its main purpose is to challenge science with the Judea-Christian creation myths and provide an avenue for the ministry. The Creation Museum goes as far as misrepresenting that man lived alongside dinosaurs and that the universe is 6,000 to 10,000 years old.
Should Ham be allowed to finish building his theme park? The answer is sure, why not. As long as he is not receiving any benefit from the state or local authorities other than the issuance of building permits. In fact, the park may attract hundreds of thousands of visitors, providing a new source of revenue for the state and a “boon” to the tourism industry of Tennessee.
But once the state declares its support of the park, either through financial or other means, then the Rubicon has been cross and the fight is on.