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Noah's Ark park loses state tax breaks (but Christmas is safe)

Maybe it's just me, but I haven't heard much this year about the so-called war on Christmas.

In case you've missed the battle because you're too busy every December, here's a quick refresher. This is the assertion that there's a consolidated, aggressive effort by governments, media, advertising, retailers and various other secular movements to strip Dec. 25 of its religious meaning.

Basically, say pro-Merry Christmas/anti-Happy Holidays combatants, people are trying to take Christ out of Christmas.

Or maybe I haven't heard so much this year about the annual (traditional?) fight because, according to a recent survey, the war on Christmas is over. Jesus won.

Much to my mother's chagrin, I'm not a big churchgoer. And I'm definitely not a Bible-thumper. But I do put out a nativity scene in my own private home each December.

Texas Raku Nativity Scene 2014
Our raku pottery nativity, which I bought because I love the crackling and colors. The hubby and I add some Texas twists to the scene. The wise guys men have a Lone Star to follow and a wooden armadillo, handcrafted and colorfully painted by a Mexican artisan, joins the more traditional barn animals.

This kind of display is fine with me. It's inside our own private residence. And nonbeliever friends immediately know from our tweaks that we're not pushing any particular belief.

But when it comes to public displays of religiosity, regardless of the season, I'm a firm believer in the separation of church and state.

After some soul and constitutional searching, so apparently are Kentucky officials.

Noah's Ark park problems: In July, the Kentucky Tourism Development Finance Authority preliminarily approved $18.25 million in sales tax rebates over 10 years for Ark Encounter LLC, a for-profit group founded by the creationist organization Answers in Genesis.

Ark Encounter plans to build a $73 million full-size replica of Noah's Ark as described in the Bible. Part of the state money also would have helped construct animatronic dinosaurs on the park's ark.

State officials originally thought the tax-break was a good job-creating, tourist attracting investment.

The wanted, however, assurances from Ark Encounter and Answers in Genesis that that the park would not discriminate in hiring based on religion.

The park sponsors refused.

In a written request earlier this month to the Kentucky tourism office, Ark Encounter stated that because it is a religious charitable entity, it is "clearly allowed by state and federal law to include religion as a [criterion] in its future hiring decisions." So the Noah's Ark recreation will look to hire Christians, specifically politically conservative young-Earth creationists.

Wrong answer.

Kentucky officials pulled the project's tax incentives.

No state funds because...: In doing so, the Kentucky Tourism Development Finance Authority cited two reasons.

First is Ark Encounter's plan to hire only Christians to work at the facility. Second is that the Bluegrass State's funds would unconstitutionally advance religion.

"The use of state incentives in this way violates the separation of church and state provisions of the Constitution and is therefore impermissible," wrote Tourism Secretary Bob Stewart wrote in the tax break revocation letter to the park planners.

Without state money, the future of the theme park is unclear. As is often the case, it might end up in court.

Ark Encounter has threatened to sue on "unconstitutional viewpoint discrimination" grounds to regain the tax breaks.

Kentucky isn't worried.

"We're confident that the law is on our side," Mike Johnson, attorney for Ark Encounter, told Tax Analysts.

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