Thursday, April 06, 2006

And now, the St. Petersburg Times brings you the news from Jeb Bush's Gilead...

Biblical parks may get tax deal

A biblical theme park in Orlando where guests pay $30 admission to munch on "Goliath" burgers and explore reproductions of 2000-year-old tombs and temples could get a property tax exemption written into state law.

A Senate committee easily passed a bill that would grant theme parks "used to exhibit, illustrate, and interpret biblical manuscripts ... " an exemption from local property taxes, like churches, even though the parks charge money.

... the property appraiser argues the nonprofit should pay taxes on the money-producing park, just like Disney World or Universal Orlando, with its pricey tickets and $5 parking fees....

This battle has been going on for years; this CNN story, about the county property appraiser's decision to deny tax-exempt status, is from 2001. The CNN story also tells us this:

The Holy Land Experience ... was developed by Zion's Hope, a nonprofit, nondenominational Christian ministry. Detractors, including national Jewish groups, have accused the park of being a front for efforts to convert Jews.

Well, I'm not sure about the park, but the Zion's Hope Web site doesn't mince words:

Zion's Hope seeks to graciously proclaim to the Jewish people their need for personal salvation through Jesus the Messiah and to proclaim the gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ to all men regardless of race, religion, gender, education, or national origin. Accordingly, Zion's Hope seeks to educate the Bible-believing Church concerning the place of Israel in both history and prophecy and assist it in fulfilling its God-given obligation to rightfully include the Jewish people in its program for world evangelism.

The park -- well, to judge from the Web site, it looks like a theme park. A religious theme park, to be sure, but certainly not a church or a museum or a research institution (although you can see documents at the Scriptorium.)

Pat Robertson's American Center for Law and Justice began fighting for Holy Land's tax-exempt status years ago. And now victory is in reach, as a result of this exception.

As the St. Petersburg Times story notes, it's carved out to benefit only one organization:

The bill's sponsor, Sen. Daniel Webster, R-Winter Garden, says the bill really only applies to Holy Land Experience and said it would be difficult for another park to meet the "stiffly worded" criteria.

But at least one Florida attraction hopes that won't be the last word:

Yet, when a Pensacola park dedicated to creationism learned of the Webster bill Tuesday it promptly sent an emissary to Webster's office to find out how it could qualify for the same tax break.

Dinosaur Adventure Land, devoted to demonstrating that the Bible proves dinosaurs and humans coexisted, displays pages from ancient Bibles and "biblical accounts of dinosaurs," said Creation Science Evangelism founder Kent Hovind, who also goes by "Dr. Dino."

Dinosaur Adventure Land is a nonprofit but is organized under a different section of the IRS code than Holy Land Experience. A director with Creation Science Evangelism said the group won't change its IRS designation, but will see about getting the Webster bill tweaked to include it too....


By the way, here's the Dinosaur Adventure Land site. Interestingly, the park has a Darwin Day. Unfortunately, you just missed it -- it was April Fool's Day. (Har-har-har-har! Get it?)

(Via Democratic Underground.)

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