Thursday, March 17, 2011

if Kentucky is going to give taxpayer money for tourism, why not religious tourism?

Wilfred McClay in the WSJ on Kentucky's taxpayer-subsidized-ark-to-be...

When state governments cause controversy by offering money to local businesses, the story usually involves corruption, kickbacks, log-rolling, or insider favors. Rare is the scandal that centers on a proposed full-sized, "biblically correct" replica of Noah's Ark—but that's the situation today in Kentucky.

On Dec. 1, Kentucky Gov. Steven L. Beshear announced that the state would provide tax incentives to support the construction of Ark Encounter, a sprawling theme park on 800 acres of rural Grant County. Under Kentucky's Tourism Development Act, the state can compensate approved businesses for as much as a quarter of their development costs, using funds drawn out of sales-tax receipts. It's a considerable sweetener to promote development and jobs.

But in this case, say critics, it may pose a constitutional problem. The developers of Ark Encounter have close ties to a Christian ministry called Answers in Genesis, which promotes "young-earth" creationism—the belief that the account of creation provided in Genesis is scientifically accurate and that the Earth is only 6,000 years old.

The ministry has already established a Creation Museum in nearby Petersburg, Ky., that has proven a major tourist attraction. Ark Encounter, a more commercial enterprise, plans to offer an array of animals to serve as ark-dwellers, a 10-story Tower of Babel, a recreation of a first-century Middle Eastern village, high-tech simulations of Old Testament stories, and a petting zoo. Designers say that every detail, down to the construction techniques of the Ark itself, will plausibly reflect the biblical account.

...civil libertarians' are concerned that the park would involve an unconstitutional advancement of religion. But over the past two decades federal law has moved toward nondiscrimination against religious organizations. This began with the "charitable choice" provisions in Bill Clinton's welfare-reform package, which sought to allow religious groups to receive government-funded social services. The trend continued with the Bush administration's promotion of faith-based initiatives, which the Obama administration has extended in barely modified form. The constitutional argument therefore seems tired, supporting a form of discrimination that the government is abandoning in other quarters...

Should the promotion of tourism be subject to this kind of discrimination? The legal scholar Erwin Chemerinsky has stated that he objects to the park receiving state funds because it "is about bringing the Bible to life." But why is that different, legally speaking, from Disneyland bringing Pirates of the Caribbean to life?...

Or are we dealing with a different problem entirely, the kind that inevitably arises when we allow the government to inject itself into the economy, supporting some businesses and not others, designating winners and losers, micromanaging and botching incentives...

America's robust commitment to religious liberty means allowing the widest possible latitude to such undertakings—and allowing criticism of them to flourish as well. Let the deluge begin.

McClay closes with an interesting discussion of evangelicalism, fundamentalism and the embrace of secular culture for godly ends. He also questions whether this is a good idea from a Christian perspective. But he has some useful things to say about government decisions to support business of any type.

1 Comments:

At March 18, 2011 at 9:56 AM , Blogger Eric Schansberg said...

From the economics of it, there's no reason for the govt to discriminate in favor of one (supposedly productive) form of tourism over another. (Not that everything is economics...)

From the economics of it, one would also strongly doubt the govt's ability to take money from one sector of the economy and move it to another, while creating a net gain. What's the likelihood that the govt will correctly pick winners-- and that this gain will be greater than people spending their own money?

From the politics of it, politicians and esp. voters are prone to imagine that it's a net improvement, focusing on the obvious gains and less so (if at all) on the less obvious costs.

 

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