By Dan Arel
It’s not new for federal and state governments to issue tax breaks and incentives to religious organizations. In fact, George W. Bush and his famous “faith based initiatives” program gave certain religious organizations tax breaks if they performed non-religious duties, followed employment laws, and offered a service not based on a recipient’s religious beliefs.
So, if your religious organization feeds the homeless, does not proselytize to those receiving its services and does not discriminate against employees who do not share the same religious beliefs as the organization, the government may give it a tax incentive for its services.
Unfortunately, this has not always worked out as planned, and neither the Bush nor the Obama administration has taken action regarding the many claims of proselytizing and employee discrimination. Organizations continue to take advantage of both federal and state incentives and often do so while holding those who receive their services and those who work with them to a religious test, or force them to sit through sermons of some kind before offering them the benefits.
One continued offender is Ken Ham’s Creation Museum, a museum that is run by Ham’s evangelical apologist organization Answers in Genesis.
In 2011, Kentucky awarded the museum $43 million in tax credits for an expansion project called the Ark Encounter, an amusement park focusing on the legend of Noah’s Ark. However, this $43 million tax break was not enough for the museum, which has yet to break ground on the new exhibit. It has now applied for an $18 million tax incentive from Kentucky Tourism Development Finance Authority.
According to the Louisville paper, the Courier-Journal:
Three years ago, the group won approval of incentives for its entire $172.5 million project, but because of funding problems it withdrew that application and is seeking approval for a $73 million first phase of the biblical theme park.
Now the museum claims it is ready to break if it can get the new $18 million incentive, the Courier Journal reports:
Ark Encounter is applying to participate in a program that allows eligible tourism attractions a rebate of 25 percent of the sales tax they collect on admission tickets, souvenirs, food and other things over ten years. For this application the rebates would be as much as $18.25 million.
Yet the museum has never provided sufficient proof that it is a tourist attraction of value to the state, or even a museum at all; it has not been accepted by the American Alliance of Museums and scientists have long argued the museum is nothing more than religious propaganda.
The purpose of the museum is clearly to proselytize to its visitors and show them the evangelical explanation for life on Earth as portrayed in the Bible. The Ark Encounter is no different. The intent is to bring in guests and preach to them about a biblical fable with the hope of persuading visitors of its truth.
This violates all church and state separation. No tax dollars should ever go to an organization that’s not setting out to help or offer a service to visitors, but instead has a clear goal of converting its visitors. Actual museums offer culture and education to their visitors; the Creation Museum offers neither.
Americans United for the Separation of Church and State has said it will sue the state if the incentives are granted.
“It’s a religiously themed project with potentially evangelical overtones, and therefore it would erode the separation of church and state for it to receive any money from the taxpayers,” said Sarah Jones, spokeswoman for the Washington-based Americans United for Separation of Church and State.
The Creation Museum is not the first organization to come under fire for such use of tax incentives.
Earlier this year the Salvation Army, which is a registered evangelical church, entered a settlement over a 2009 case in which 19 plaintiffs made up of former employees sued the organization for wrongful termination after the religious beliefs of the employees were brought into question.