Religious Minorities

Ken Ham’s Ark Park Floats On A Sea Of Taxpayer Subsidies

  Rob Boston

Ken Ham, the Darwin-denying dude from Down Under, is not happy these days. You see, a member of the media had the temerity to point out that Ham built his Ark Encounter, a creationist replica of Noah’s Ark that’s often called the “Ark Park,” on the backs of Kentucky taxpayers. Ham gets really angry when anyone mentions this and has responded with a Twitter fusillade of untruths.

Here’s what happened: Earlier this month, reporter Linda Blackford of the Lexington Herald-Leader reviewed the documentary “We Believe In Dinosaurs,” which looks at how Ark Encounter came to be.

Blackford has been writing about the Ark Park for years, and in the course of her review noted that Dan Phelps, a Kentucky geologist, had opposed tax money going to the facility. (Americans United did too, which I talked about in the documentary.)

“It’s also sad to see Phelps mourn his inability to stop state tax dollars from being used to subsidize the Ark,” Blackford wrote. “That, of course, is the crux of any outrage we should feel. People are free to believe anything they want, but in a country founded by those trying to escape religious dogmatism who made the separation between church and state a pillar of our society, it’s very trying to see Kentucky’s limited tax dollars being spent on this fundamentalist Disneyland.”

That’s what got Ham worked up, and he attacked Blackford via Twitter, accusing her of “name calling and misinformation” and calling her piece, “Fake news at its finest!” Ham added, “Blackford knows very well that no state funds have ever been used to build this attraction.”

Facts may not matter to Ham, but they should for everyone else, so let’s put Ham’s claim to rest once and for all.

Back in 2014, Church & State published a story about the various forms of tax aid Ham’s evangelistic enterprise received, and yesterday, blogger Hemant Mehta did us a great service by listing all of the public assistance Ham’s park (and its parent company, Ham’s Answers in Genesis ministry) has raked in over the years. Here are some of them:

  • A tax-rebate program nets the Ark Park more than $1.8 million annually from the state. Under the plan, the state charges a 6 percent tax on the sale of tickets, food and souvenirs at the park. The funds are forwarded to the state, but once a year, all of that money is refunded to the Ark Park. It flows directly from the state treasury to Ark Encounter.
  • As bloggers William and Susan Trollinger have pointed out repeatedly, the city of Williamstown floated $62 million in junk bonds for the Ark Park to subsidize the building of the structure. (By the way, Williamstown officials did this because they bought Ham’s claim that the Ark Park would spur tourism in their town. But that hasn’t happened, and now Ham says it’s their fault because the community is too far away from the interstate.)
  • The Grant County Industrial Authority gave Ark Encounter $175,000 to offset the cost of land. In addition, local officials agreed to sell nearly 100 acres of land to Ham for the princely sum of $1.
  • The state spent $10 million on highway improvements on a road leading to Ark Encounter. 

There’s simply no denying it – that’s an awful lot of state and local support. Ham needs to own up to the fact that his fundamentalist theme park would likely never have seen the light of day without massive help from the taxpayers of Kentucky.

Americans United believes Ham’s attraction features bad science, and we work hard to keep his version of young-Earth creationism out of our public schools. But we’ve never disputed his right to build the park, even if it is a font of fundamentalist anti-evolutionism.

Ham should have had no right, though, to stick Kentucky taxpayers with the bill.

(Photo: Screenshot from video via Louisville Courier-Journal)

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