(Photo: Creation Museum)
A church-state watchdog group has spoken out against a road improvement program being reviewed by the Kentucky State Legislature due to it being connected to the construction of a Bible-themed amusement park.
Americans United for Separation of Church and State has denounced the project, which would provide $11.1 million for various improvements to KY 36, a highway that is near the site where Answers In Genesis' Ark Encounter Theme Park will be located.
Known as the "Ark Park," the theme park would showcase a life-size replica of Noah's Ark, built in the same dimensions described in the Genesis account of Noah's flood.
Alex Luchenitser, associate legal director for Americans United, told The Christian Post that his organization opposes the monetary expenditure over its apparent religious entanglements.
"The Highway-36 appropriation is intended to promote and support a religious, evangelical enterprise, violating the separation of church and state and the Kentucky Constitution's prohibitions on government support of religion," said Luchenitser.
"The KY-36 road project has only one purpose: to support the construction of the Ark Encounter Theme Park – a proposed biblical theme park that would be in the shape of a full-size replica of Noah's Ark, using the dimensions set forth in the Bible."
Chuck Wolfe of the Kentucky Transportation Cabinet told CP that the project was necessary given the expected traffic increase courtesy of the Ark Park.
"The Kentucky Transportation Cabinet is designing a project to accommodate a significant increase in traffic projected for KY 36 in Grant County, northern Kentucky," said Wolfe.
"That increased traffic otherwise would cause significant congestion and dangerous backups on Interstate 75. The cabinet designs projects based on traffic needs, regardless of the source of that traffic."
The transportation plan that includes the $11.1 million project for KY 36 was introduced by Kentucky Governor Steve Beshear and has been amended and passed by both houses of the State Legislature. Since each legislative chamber passed a different version of the highway construction project bill, at present the two chambers will be negotiated.
According to Wolfe, the total expense allotted from the KY 36 project that would benefit the Ark Park is miniscule compared to the overall allotments for the highway plan.
"It ($11.1 million for KY 36) is a comparatively modest project. The entire highway plan submitted by Governor Beshear totals $10.7 billion," said Wolfe.
"The competing House and Senate versions [currently] add up to $10.6 billion and $11.5 billion, respectively."
Mark Looy, chief communications officer for Answers in Genesis, told CP that as the KY 36 legislation is still being processed, The Ark Encounter LLC and its partners have made progress on the Ark Park.
"The Ark Encounter LLC, with whom we are partnering, recently closed on the final piece of land, known as the Finke property. We now have 800 acres in Williamstown, Kentucky," said Looy.
"In addition to reaching that milestone, we have seen the completion of complex engineering and architectural work on the Ark structure. This thorough study has determined that there can be significantly greater guest capacity inside the Ark than originally anticipated."
Looy also said he did not believe there was a church-state issue with the KY 36 project since no additional taxes will be raised in order to pay for it.
"Funds for road and interchange improvements would come via the federal and state governments and from revenue collected through gasoline taxes," said Looy.
"Local and state taxes will not increase for Kentucky citizens in order to pay for road improvements. Thus there is no church/state issue in this regard."
Looy also told CP that the Ark Encounter Theme Park was not the only beneficiary of the proposed improvements to KY 36, as "residents living near the Speedway have benefited from road improvements."