religion

Tax Incentive Suspended for Kentucky Noah's Ark Attraction

Jul 22, 2017
Rick Howlett

Kentucky's tourism agency has suspended a tax break worth up to $18 million for a Noah's ark biblical attraction after the park transferred its main property to a nonprofit affiliate.

Media outlets report the Kentucky Tourism Arts and Heritage Cabinet said the park's action breached the incentive agreement, which would refund a portion of sales tax collected at the site.

Ark Encounter transferred land to Crosswater Canyon in June. The tourism agency says Ark Encounter failed to inform the state of any change in ownership or get prior written consent.

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Today is the day that new laws passed earlier this year by the Kentucky General Assembly take effect.

Gov. Matt Bevin signed more than 130 bills into law, dealing with issues ranging from charter schools to drug control to doubling campaign contributions for state politicians.

This year’s legislative session was the first in which Republicans had control of both the state House and Senate as well as the governor’s office.

The Southern Baptist Convention voted to formally "denounce and repudiate" white nationalism and the alt-right movement at the church's annual meeting Wednesday, but only after the denomination's leadership was criticized for initially bypassing the proposal.

President Trump will try to leave his troubles behind as he departs on the first foreign trip of his presidency. It's an ambitious itinerary with stops in Saudi Arabia, Israel and the Vatican and two meetings with European leaders.

Here are five objectives to watch for as Trump goes overseas.

1. Will the cloud of controversy follow?

There has been one "bad news" headline after another involving the Trump administration breaking every day this week. But if the president is looking for a reprieve, recent history indicates he might be disappointed.

Elena Elisseeva/123rf Stock Photo

What supporters call a “Freedom of Religious Expression” bill is before Kentucky House members and likely to get a vote this week. The bill already won overwhelming approval in the Senate. 

Senate Bill 17 spells out permission for school students to voluntarily express religious or political viewpoints In school assignments or activities.

Elizabethtown Representative Tim Moore carried the bill in the House Education Committee. “Students have the same religious liberty to express their viewpoint at school that they do anywhere else. That doesn’t infringe on anyone. That just allows each individual to express their viewpoint and to be people of faith wherever they go," Moore said.

Mary Meehan

Dona Wells walked through what’s left of the EMW Women’s Clinic in Lexington, Kentucky. Boxes fill what use to be offices. Sterilized medical supplies are in disarray. A light flickers on and off in the back hallway. She doesn’t see a point in fixing it. At 75, she still runs 25 miles a week, but Wells is tired.

“I was going to retire anyway, probably this year,” she said. But I wanted to do it on my terms, not Gov. Bevin’s terms.”

That would be Kentucky Gov. Matt Bevin, who recently signed two bills into law further restricting abortion services: one requiring an ultrasound as part of abortions and another prohibiting the procedure after 20 weeks of pregnancy. The final straw for Wells came in the form of a new license requirement from the state. Wells has been battling restrictive rules for most of the clinic’s 28 years, but the battle is over now. She’s closing the clinic.

Kevin Probst / Wikimedia Commons

Community groups in counties across Kentucky are starting the new year with a Bible reading marathon, which Governor Matt Bevin marked in a proclamation earlier this month. In the proclamation, Bevin declared 2017 “The Year of the Bible.”

The Kentucky 120 United Bible Reading Marathon is a four-day event in which volunteers sign up for time slots to read the Bible from beginning to end. Hopkins County event coordinator Lynda Crick says it is a great way to bring the state together.

Alix Mattingly

A state senator is planning to once again propose a bill during the upcoming legislative session that he says will protect religious freedoms.

The bill would nullify local “fairness” ordinances across the state that protect Kentuckians from discrimination based on sexual orientation. Though it has failed in recent years, the measure will have a better chance during the upcoming General Assembly when both the legislature and governor’s office will be controlled by Republicans for the first time in state history.

Sen. Al Robinson, a Republican from London and sponsor of the “religious freedom” bill in previous years, said he’s not concerned with backlash like North Carolina has seen after passing similar legislation.

“There’s more people that are backing down when they should not be backing down for the sake of the threats and the financial threats,” Robinson said. “And to me there’s some price that’s just not worth paying.”

Rob Canning

Governor Matt Bevin’s administration is asking a judge to throw out a court settlement aimed at preventing church-run foster care programs from proselytizing to children.

The settlement was made between Democratic Governor Steve Beshear and the American Civil Liberties Union and Americans United for Separation of Church and State.

The Bevin administration says the state’s position has changed now that the Republican is in office.

The Courier-Journal reports the case began when a woman sued the Kentucky Baptist Homes forChildren in 2000 after she was fired for being a lesbian. In her suit, the plaintiff also said her former employer was using religious indoctrination on children in its care.

Elena Elisseeva

A non-religious couple is claiming discrimination from a western Kentucky county official who refuses to marry the couple without a religious ceremony.  

Jon and Mandy Heath arranged to marry at the Trigg County Courthouse this month, but say they were informed by Judge Executive Hollis Alexander that he won’t perform the secular ceremony they requested, only a religious one.  

According to the couple's complaint, Alexander told them "I include God in my ceremonies, and I won't do one without him."

Andrew Seidel, an attorney with the Minnesota-based Freedom From Religion Foundation, says he sent a letter to Alexander emphasizing that any requirement of a religious ceremony is unconstitutional. “There is a separation of church and state in this country," said Seidel. "Our government cannot require citizens to have a religious ceremony, to say religious language, to engage in any form of religion whatsoever. And that is what this judge was trying to do here.”

Bill Campbell

In rural Kentucky, the call to be a preacher can come at an early age. Nick Wilson was born with it.

"We were always in church," he says. "Sunday morning, Sunday night, Wednesday night, Bible school, revivals. That's what life was."

His father, a grandfather and two great-grandfathers were Southern Baptist preachers. So is his brother. His sister married a preacher, and Wilson intended to follow the line.

After college, he attended the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Ky., a training ground for Baptist preachers since 1859. But his ministry plans soon ended, because no congregation was interested in ordaining him. They all wanted a family man, and Wilson didn't measure up.

"First off, I'm single. That's a problem," he says. "They really want you to be married. But then if you throw in gay, it's over with."

Wilson says he knew from the time he was six or seven that he was "different." In time, he became open about his sexuality, even taking his boyfriend to church. But in the Southern Baptist world, homosexuality is morally unacceptable, so he was disqualified from the ministry.

"The scriptural view is what's ultimate," says Albert Mohler, president of the Southern Baptist Seminary and an intellectual leader in the evangelical world. "The Apostle Paul very explicitly in 1 Corinthians says that those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God." [There's more from Mohler and the culture war being fought among Evangelical Christians in Tom Gjelten's Morning Edition story.]

Mark Humphrey/AP

Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam has signed legislation that allows mental health counselors and therapists to refuse to treat patients based on religious objections or personal beliefs.

Critics of the law say it could result in discrimination against lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people. As Nashville Public Radio reported earlier this month:

"A group representing gay and lesbian Tennesseans [asked Haslam] to veto the legislation. ...

"The Tennessee Equality Project, an LGBT advocacy group, says the measure will make it harder for gays and lesbians to find counseling — particularly in rural parts of the state where religiously conservative therapists are common."

Haslam, however, said in a statement that he decided to sign the bill because it addressed two of his concerns. He said:

A debate over how to teach religion to public school students in Tennessee is rocking school districts around the state. Activists and concerned parents worry middle school students are being “indoctrinated” with a sanitized version of Islam.

The issue has made its way to the state legislature. One proposal would restrict discussion of religion until the end of high school. Chas Sisk of Here & Now contributor WPLN has the story.

The U.S is home to the most Christians in the world, but the number of Americans who identify as Christian is declining, according to a newly released survey by the Pew Research Center. The survey of more than 35,000 Americans also found the number of people who consider themselves unaffiliated with any religion, or "nones," is growing.

According to Pew:

Flickr/Creative Commons/Carl&Tracy Gossett

A proposal to make the Bible the official state book of Tennessee is advancing in the state House despite constitutional questions raised by the state attorney general's office.

The measure sponsored by Republican Rep. Jerry Sexton of Bean Station was advanced on a 2-1 vote by the State Government Subcommittee on Wednesday. Rep. Bill Sanderson, the subcommittee's chairman, said a formal legal opinion has been requested from Attorney General Herbert Slatery.

But Sanderson said preliminary word is that the state's top attorney said the measure could be constitutionally suspect.

The Tennessee Constitution says "no preference shall ever be given, by law, to any religious establishment or mode of worship." Similar proposals to make the Bible the state book failed in Mississippi earlier this yearand in Louisiana last year.

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