Tax Breaks for Ignorance

As you doubtless already know, America is suffering through an unprecedented economic disaster. With millions of people jobless and millions of homeowners underwater, the economy is stagnant and its prospects are dim. Which is why, in these hard times, nothing is more important than shoveling more taxpayer dollars into the gaping maw of the fundamentalist carnival sideshow:

A group of private investors and religious organizations is hoping to build a Bible-themed amusement park in Kentucky, complete with a full-size 500-foot-by-75-foot reproduction of Noah’s Ark, a Tower of Babel, and other biblical exhibits on a 800-acre campus outside of Williamstown, KY. Their effort got a shot in the arm yesterday when the state approved $43 million in tax breaks for the project.

As the article notes, Kentucky has cut funding to education and Medicaid eight times in the past three years. But, somehow, its government has found room in the budget for a $43 million tax break, a 75% property-tax reduction over 30 years, $200,000 in direct incentives, 100 acres of reduced-price state land, $40 million in sales tax rebates, and $11 million in nearby road improvements, all of which are for the benefit of a creationist “amusement park” whose chief attraction will be a full-size replica of Noah’s leaky boat. All this is to complement the “creation museum” which Kentucky already boasts, though I feel dirty even using the word “museum” to describe an institute devoted to the teaching of antiscientific ignorance.

This story is a prime example of something that I first saw pointed out by Sikivu Hutchinson. In economically depressed communities, storefront churches are both a sign of and a contributor to blight: a sign of blight because it means that profit-generating businesses can’t get a foothold; a contributor to blight because churches, unlike businesses, pay no taxes and don’t help broaden the revenue base. The same is likely to be true of these “creation museums”: as soon as their builders have cashed the state’s checks, we can expect them to turn around and claim that they’re part of a ministry and should be entirely tax-exempt, over and above the massive tax breaks they’ve already been given.

This project is unlikely to help the state’s economy, but it does help right-wing demagogues burnish their theocratic credentials for the benefit of the masses. In today’s Republican party, being anti-science is a prerequisite, and dispensing government pork to some loon who claims that the universe is younger than the invention of writing is a solid bullet point on a politician’s resumé. That said, I can’t pin all the blame on Republicans: Kentucky’s Democratic governor, Steve Beshear, also supports the project, which just proves that ignorance and pandering cross party lines.

Nor is it just Kentucky that’s rewarding the purveyors of religious lunacy. In Texas (where else?), the state is funneling money to “crisis pregnancy” centers, those anti-choice fronts that typically do their best to look like legitimate family-planning clinics so that they can bombard women who come to them with religious propaganda.

What these stories show is that the Republicans’ alleged fiscal conservatism has nothing to do with deficits, and everything to do with wielding the power of the government as a bludgeon to support their regressive, medieval views on science and women’s rights. They’re dead-set against raising taxes, except when it’s raising taxes on abortion and family planning. They’re ferociously opposed to more government spending, except when that spending is for the benefit of carnival-barker religious whackjobs or deceitful anti-choicers. They’re more than willing to use the government’s spending power to advance ignorance and take away choice, just never the other way around.

About Adam Lee

Adam Lee is an atheist writer and speaker living in New York City. His new novel, Broken Ring, is available in paperback and e-book. Read his full bio, or follow him on Twitter.

  • Vin720

    From what you have written, it seems to me that Kentucky is making an investment. Forty Three Million, while it sounds like a lot, is really not. The state is hoping that this investment will get them more back both in the short term, as construction of what, at 800 acres, is a huge project that will create jobs and income tax revenue, as well as the long term, which tourists will come and spend money in places like hotels, restaurants, etc. which will also bring tax revenues. If private investors and churches want to build this, they should have the freedom to do so, whether you or I agree with their beliefs. And let’s face it, in places like Kentucky, this kind of thing will probably draw a lot of visitors.

  • http://makingmyway.org Robert

    What these stories show is that the Republicans’ alleged fiscal conservatism…

    As the Think Progress article indicates, the Governor of Kentucky, ” a strong proponent of the $150 million project,” is a Democrat.

  • Monty

    If private investors and churches want to build this, they should have the freedom to do so, whether you or I agree with their beliefs.

    They certainly can, and I don’t think anyone here will debate that point. But giving them tax breaks? No. It’s a blatant violation of separation of church and state, and it’s not like they need the money or anything.

  • Niklaus Pfirsig

    There was a group not long ago that planned on buildng a christian themed amusement park in Nashville. They tried to get the tax breaks, and tax funded road improvements for a field across the road by Opry Mills/ Opryland Resort hotel complex. For Google earth fans, the co-ords are N 36° 13′ 01.26″, W 086° 41′ 26.11″.

    The Nashville city council voted down the request for the tax breaks, because their research indicated that most theme parks are not profitable in a down economy and that the projected influx of money into the community would not offset the tax revenues lost to the tax breaks. In short the city coucil decided that the theme park would ba a black hole for public funds.

  • Charles Black

    This state of affairs is appalling to anyone who cares about science & rationality.
    I guess now isn’t the time to just talk about defending science, its time to take action.

  • Jessa

    But giving them tax breaks? No. It’s a blatant violation of separation of church and state . . .

    Wouldn’t the question on that end up being whether the state would give the same tax breaks to a non-religious park like Six Flags or Disney? My first reaction is they shouldn’t get the incentives, but I don’t think they should be denied them for no other reason than because they are a religious park. I also wonder if a full-sized replica might be a good way to prove the whole concept of every animal on the planet in one boat is impossible.

  • Mark Fisher

    Hmmm… Cutting funds for education, but providing funds (for all practical purposes) for the opposite of education. Makes sense to me.

  • Demonhype

    Creates jobs? For Christians, maybe. Wasn’t there some issue like this before, where people said it would create jobs so it was okay to pour public funds into it, then they turned around and prohibited the hire of anyone but people with the “correct” beliefs, claiming it was a “religious institution” and was exempt from equal opportunity laws?

    They’re deliberately trying to blur the line between church and state. One great way is to pretend it’s just a “private business venture” when you want to suck public funding, but claim to be “a religion” when you want to don’t want to play by the private-business rules, such as equal opportunity. Straddle both titles, shift your weight depending on the circumstances, and get paid to be a bigot! It’s win-win! Kind of like the whole “we’re a persecuted minority/we’re a supermajority and should always get our way, even to the point of stripping gay people of rights” angle they use. Cognitive dissonance is their friend.

    Also–cut education, cut jobs, build a huge religious nightmare that will turn around and withhold a living from people unless they’re Christian after sucking up funds that could have been used to give people legitimate opportunities for education and employment….

    Christianity is a leech on society, isn’t it?

  • Douglas kirk

    Wouldn’t the question on that end up being whether the state would give the same tax breaks to a non-religious park like Six Flags or Disney?

    No, the proper question would be if the state would give the excat same amount in tax breaks to a muslim park. Would they? How about a buddhist theme park? Or a hindu? If they would ever deny the tax breaks fro a religious theme park regardless of religion, it’s government endorsement of religion and not constitutional.

    Side note: seriously, evangelical, reality denying christianity isn’t the only religion in the US. There’s also reality denying christianity; baby-beating, reality-denying christianity; liberal, reality-denying christianity; kiddie-raping enabling, reality-denying catholicism; reality-denying buddhism; non-religion religious, reality-denying buddhism; truth is subjective unitarianism; etc. That’s a lot of theme parks.

  • Cafeeine

    No, the proper question would be if the state would give the excat same amount in tax breaks to a muslim park. Would they? How about a buddhist theme park? Or a hindu?

    While I agree in principle, there is a very good secular reason why a christian-themed park has a better chance at viability in Kentucky than a Muslim or Hindu park would: A much larger possible client base. One isn’t straddling the church/state line to say that Noah’s Ark-land would have broader appeal among Kentuckians than Meccapaloosa.

  • Jeff

    I’d actually be in favor of tax breaks and any other incentive to get the Ark built quickly, if they’d promise to push it out to see with Ken Ham on it.

  • Charles Black

    I’m truly shocked to hear Texan politicians pandering to those religious ideologues again (or not). Is Kent Hovind still in jail?

  • Niklaus Pfirsig

    A large part of the problem is that even if funded by private interests and without tax breaks, in most cases taxpayer money will be needed to upgrade the local infrastructure, including widening roads, and inproving water and sewer facilities to support the park. When in operations, the park will use community servces, such as emergency services as well.