Americans United has urged the Kentucky legislature not to spend $2 million on a road project benefitting the proposed “Ark Park,” calling the plan constitutionally dubious and a waste of scarce taxpayer dollars.
The state budget currently under consideration includes the special transportation funding even though Kentucky officials are relentlessly looking for places to trim spending and the biblical theme park in Grant County may not even be built. Plans for opening the Ark Encounter have been repeatedly delayed due to lack of donations.
“Legislators are desperately looking for ways to cut the budget, yet they are including $2 million to benefit the Ark Park,” said Barry W. Lynn, Americans United executive director. “That’s an astonishing lapse in judgment. Taxpayers should never be forced to support a religious ministry, and it is particularly appalling to do so when essential public services are being cut.”
AU’s Lynn noted that the Kentucky Constitution specifically bans use of taxpayer funds to support religion. Section 5 says taxpayers may not be forced to “contribute to the erection or maintenance” of any place of worship.
The Ark Park project has been controversial. The planned tourist attraction is sponsored by Answers in Genesis, a fundamentalist Christian ministry that promotes creationism. Plans call for a full-size replica of Noah’s Ark and other attractions that promote biblical literalism.
Although the project was announced to much fanfare last year, ground-breaking has been repeatedly delayed, and media reports suggest the ministry has received less than $5 million of the $24.5 million sought to build the facility.
Lynn said some observers think the Ark Park may never open and the state funds spent on the Highway 36 road project may be a complete waste. He said it recalls the national controversy over the “bridge to nowhere,” a $400 million pork-barrel project in Alaska that Congress considered funding in 2005.
“Legislators should not waste $2 million on a ‘road to nowhere,’” Lynn said. “At a time when legislators have even voted down preschool funding for poor kids, this misuse of taxpayer dollars is utterly unacceptable.
“If the legislature leaves this money in the budget,” Lynn continued, “Gov. Steve Beshear should use the line-item veto to take it out. It would save scarce public resources and avoid constitutional problems. This appropriation of taxpayer money for religion would likely be struck down by the courts.”