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Iowa Faces Criticism After Granting State Funds To Construction Of Christian Park

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IOWA STATE CAPITOL BUILDING
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A new Christian park being built in Sioux City, Iowa, has advanced into its second phase of construction after Vision Iowa, a state program operated by the Iowa Economic Development Authority, approved a $140,000 grant to assist with the park’s construction costs in April.

In response to the “rise of secular influence in our culture,” the park brochure states, Shepherd’s Garden seeks to create “a permanent Christian green space for the community” that “promotes visible reminders of Christian values and symbols.”

On Monday, the Freedom From Religion Foundation penned a letter to the chairwoman of Vision Iowa, Cathy Reece, criticizing the government entity for violating the constitutional ban on public sponsorship of religious activity:

It is difficult to understand how this grant could have been approved. The “join us” section of the brochure -- the plea for money -- actually quotes the King James bible, Psalm 23 … Crosses decorate the brochure and park. This is openly about space to promote Christianity, not a public space.

Shepherd’s Garden is of course free to construct their Christian green space, but the government cannot support it. This is one of the most egregious grants for a religious purpose FFRF has encountered. Vision Iowa and the Iowa Economic Development Authority must rescind the grant to comply with the Constitution.

Complete with prayer spaces and a “Walk of Faith” with Bible-inspired walkway stones, the $810,000 project cleared a major fundraising obstacle when the Vision Iowa program -- tasked by the Iowa Legislature to support projects that expand the state’s cultural, educational and recreational attractions -- approved funding for the project last month.

The park, which is also supported by private donations, will be built on an abandoned lot owned by the religious nonprofit Shepherd's Garden Foundation as “a visible reminder that God’s presence is not confined to sacred institutions and buildings, but is very much a part of the public sphere,” according to the park brochure.

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