September 10, 2006
Lands before time
Inside Dinosaur Adventure Land, a creationist theme park that sits behind a string of car dealerships on a busy commercial strip in Pensacola, a group of 50 home-schooled children romped in the muggy afternoon heat.
Some played on the Long Neck Liftasaurus swing seat, while others dug for fossils or tossed water balloons at a T-Rex and stegosaurus zip-lined down the Pterodactyl Glide while learning “the truth about dinosaurs.”
“Dinosaurs were big lizards who lived with Adam and Eve,” park founder Kent Hovind told children and their parents during a presentation on dinosaurs and the book of Genesis.
… Patricia Steele, a Christian from Tennessee who brought her three children to Dinosaur Adventure Land, said she hoped to equip her kids with arguments to refute evolution. For many Christians who take the Bible literally, evolution throws Scripture into question, she said.
… Hovind, who argues that he and his employees are missionaries who don’t have to pay income tax, is scheduled to go to trial next month on 58 federal charges, including evasion of nearly $470,000 in employee taxes.
Hovind appeared cheerful and upbeat as he introduced a film about the biblical story of the creation, fall and flood to his fidgety young audience. He seemed reluctant to discuss the park’s legal troubles.
But a note to visitors sitting near the cash register in the gift shop struck a sullen note. “We just want to serve God and be left alone,” it said.
Meanwhile over at the Holy Land Experience in Orlando:
The announcement came over loudspeakers as fat clouds formed above a replica of Christ’s garden tomb. Dozens of disappointed tourists and pilgrims who came to witness the spectacle—a daily event at the Holy Land Experience, a 15-acre, $16 million biblical theme park tucked off Interstate 4 in Orlando—trudged toward the exit.
Park officials were apologetic but firm: None of their employees would hang on the cross during a lightning storm.
The musical reenactment of Christ’s death and resurrection, delivered daily by one of the park’s three Jesus impersonators, helps draw an average of 250,000 people a year to Holy Land.
So do its Roman sentinels, wearing swords, scowls and leather skirts; a six-story replica of Herod’s temple; a gift shop that sells Holy Land T-shirts, plastic swords and shields, and biblical cookbooks; and park actors like 85-year-old Herb Maynard, whose tangled white beard and wild eyebrows allow him to play Moses with little makeup.
… Holy Land has been plagued with controversy since it opened in 2001. Jewish leaders protested the park’s message that Jews must convert to Christianity. County officials sought to collect more than $1 million in back taxes from the park, which calls itself a ministry, not a business.
The park scored a major victory this summer when Gov. Jeb Bush signed a bill granting a property-tax exemption to nonprofit organizations that display biblical manuscripts or that stage scenes from the Bible. Holy Land paid a team of lobbyists between $10,000 and $30,000 to push the legislation through, according to lobbyists’ records.
Some Orange County officials argue that Holy Land operates like a business and warn that the tax law could be exploited by other theme parks. “I still believe today that though it’s very religious, it’s a religious theme park, not a religious entity,” said Orange County Property Appraiser Bill Donegan. “What does the Holy Land provide? Goliath burgers.”
… The Rev. Barry Lynn, executive director of Americans United for Separation of Church and State, said Florida lawmakers were duped into signing away tax dollars. “If a Mickey Mouse amusement park has to pay taxes, then a Jesus and Moses park has to pay taxes, too,” Lynn said.
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