Is this nation in danger of becoming a theocracy?
Many actions which have taken place recently would certainly suggest so.
Kentucky Senate passed SB10, which would ban laws that make it illegal to post the Ten Commandments in public places. Because the Supreme Court has ruled on this issue, it is unlikely that any state law would trump that decision, and it is still permissible to post them under certain circumstances. It appears that the Republicans in the Kentucky Senate are merely pandering to their base by pushing this bill, and it has been deemed unlikely to pass the Democratic House and even make it to the governor’s desk for a veto.
Two, Gov. Steve Beshear and the Kentucky Tourism Development Finance Authority have agreed to extend $37 million dollars in tax incentives to build the Ark Encounter, a religion-based theme park in northern Kentucky. A couple of questions about this theme park should be: (1) If it can truly generate the number of jobs and the income revenue that are projected, why could it not flourish without the state incentives being offered? — and (2) why is state government allowing public tax dollars go to a project which is so obviously religion-oriented, and only oriented toward one religion at that?
It should also be noted — as recently reported — that the Holy Land Experience, a religion-based theme park in Orlando, Fla., was granted a property tax exemption by Florida lawmakers simply because its religion-based attractions made it the same as churches (according to those lawmakers). Could this happen in Kentucky? Of course. Kentucky lawmakers have a long history of ignoring constitutional law in order to bestow largesse on religious institutions (remember David Williams denoting $10 million in state money to Cumberland College, and the subsequent court ruling against it)?
The city of Williamstown will likely be unhappy should state lawmakers declare Ark Encounter a religious endeavor the same as churches and deprive that community of thousands of dollars in property taxes that it is counting on to relieve its higher-than-average unemployment.
Locally, it is easy to reflect over the last few years and see a disturbing trend which implies a theocratic bent.
Several congregations have purchased sizeable tracts of land, mostly outside the city limits, for the purpose of constructing new facilities. Many of those churches have already been built, while at other locations the land is simply awaiting construction. Sizeable tracts of land on Boonesboro Road, Colby Road and Lexington Road have already been developed for church facilities, and some churches have abandoned their downtown locations to move to the suburbs.
Some churches which have remained downtown have purchased substantial properties, torn down houses or apartments and constructed parking lots. When homes and apartments are demolished to make way for church parking lots, these tracts disappear from the property tax rolls.
The point is that more and more land and property is being taken off the local property tax rolls at the same time that city and county governments are facing fiscal crises and diminishing tax revenue.
Perhaps it is time for the liberal interpretations of tax liability vis-a-vis churches need to be re-examined in light of the vast amount of property that is now being used by churches, not necessarily for the strict purpose of worship. Should tax exemptions for churches be limited to the worship facilities only and not for ancillary spaces? Government must be cautious about infringing on the historical separations which apply to religion, but churches are involved in much more than in their traditional past and perhaps should not expect all the old rules to apply.
Contact Chuck Witt at firstname.lastname@example.org.