Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Ark Encounter Shouting Match: ‘It’s called the Constitution’

Greg Stumbo, a democrat from the city of Prestonburg, Kentucky, in a press conference, has stated that he is opposed to the tax incentives for the proposed theme park Ark Encounter (Ark-n-Park) on the grounds that it violates the separation of church and state.  Scott Wartman, of Cincinnati.com, writes:
Ark Encounter is a $172 million biblical-themed amusement park planned in Williamstown that will feature a full scale replica of Noah’s Ark. It is a venture of Answers in Genesis, which created the Creation Museum.

Stumbo, D-Prestonsburg, in a press conference Wednesday called the tax credits unconstitutional, because they violated separation of church and state. He believes giving tax credits for a full-scale replica of Noah’s Ark will draw lawsuits that could prove expensive for the state.

“It’s called the Constitution,” Stumbo said. “It happens to be the law, and I happen to take an oath to uphold it. I’m not going to vote for anything, and I never have, that is blatantly unconstitutional, no matter how politically popular it is.”
Brian Linder, a Republican, responded:
“While the Speaker has an issue with a religious theme park receiving tax incentives to provide jobs, he apparently has no problem occupying a chair in the House chambers that has, in large letters, the motto “In God We Trust” behind it,” Linder said in the statement. “It is clear that as long as Stumbo occupies that chair, Kentucky will continue to lag behind other states in creating new jobs and boosting our economy.’
In a letter to Kentucky.com, which ran a similar story, Mark Looey, the Chief Commercial Officer of the Ark Encounter, wrote somewhat pithily:
We point out that an attorney with the American Civil Liberties Union of Kentucky told USA Today in 2010 that the state should be non-discriminatory toward the Ark Encounter.

We would further suggest that it would be illegal for the state to engage in viewpoint discrimination. In addition, the state is not compelling anyone to visit the Ark Encounter and is not endorsing its content.

Was Kentucky endorsing alcohol consumption when it approved tax refunds for a beer distillery tour project in 2012?
Looey is correct about this.  USA Today ran this tidbit in December of 2010:
American Civil Liberties Union of Kentucky staff attorney Bill Sharp said he doesn't see constitutional problems with the state granting tax exemptions for the project.

"Courts have found that giving such tax exemptions on a nondiscriminatory basis does not violate the establishment clause, even when the tax exemption goes to a religious purpose," Sharp said.
The ACLU doesn't ordinarily end up on the side of religious freedom, it seems, so this is significant, Stumbo’s comments notwithstanding.

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