- Associated Press - Saturday, May 24, 2014

SIOUX CITY, Iowa (AP) - The board of directors of an Iowa economic development group will meet next month to discuss concerns over a state grant awarded to help create a Christian park in Sioux City.

The Vision Iowa board will meet June 11 to discuss whether it should take any action after the Freedom From Religion Foundation, of Madison, Wisconsin, complained about funding the Christian-themed park with public money, the Sioux City Journal reported (http://bit.ly/1miUjb6 ).

The group has said the $140,000 grant to The Shepherd’s Garden violates the U.S. and Iowa constitutions.

Iowa Economic Development Authority spokeswoman Tina Hoffman has countered that the state grant money would pay only for green space at the park and not for any of the project’s religious elements.

Garrett Smith, a member of The Shepherd’s Garden board of directors, said the project is Christian in focus but nondenominational. He said the group didn’t seek state funding for the park’s religious elements, specifically to avoid any issues about public funding for religion.

Plans for the park include a stone path with Bible verses, a “Walk of Faith” walkway and several prayer spaces. A fundraising brochure for the park describes the project as a “non-traditional entry point into the Christian religion” and says it was inspired by “concern over the retreat of Christianity from the public square.”

A local resident sought the counsel of Siouxland Freethinkers, a community of atheists, agnostics, humanists and skeptics based primarily in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, board member Eric Novotny said. Novotny said the group suggested the resident contact Freedom From Religion Foundation.

“We know there’s a secular community in Sioux City, and their tax dollars should not be used to fund a Christian park,” Novotny said.


Information from: Sioux City Journal, http://www.siouxcityjournal.com

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