FFRF puts kibosh on Christian park subsidy

There will be no public funding of a Christian park named The Shepherd’s Garden in Sioux City, Iowa. The Freedom From Religion Foundation had sent a letter of complaint May 19 after learning that the park’s developers had been awarded a $140,000 grant from the board of Vision Iowa, which is overseen by the Iowa Economic Development Authority, a public entity. After the agency got FFRF Staff Attorney Seidel’s letter, IEDA spokeswoman Tina Hoffman claimed that public money would only be used for green space and not the park’s religious elements. Plans included a “Walk of Faith,” a “Calvary Crosses water feature,” “prayer spaces,” “crosses” and “bible verses.” The plans even differentiated between “public spaces” and “prayer spaces.”

Using the money for so-called nonreligious elements wouldn’t make the grant any less unconstitutional, Seidel said. “This is one of the most egregious grants for a religious purpose FFRF has encountered,” he said, noting that project plans described it as “a space that pays particular attention to the promise of new life in Jesus Christ that is available to all.”

On June 6, Timothy J. Whipple, IEDA general counsel for legislative affairs and rules, emailed FFRF: “You will be pleased to learn that the applicant has declined the board’s award and that the project will be completed entirely with privately raised funds. For your information, I have attached a PDF copy of the letter the board received declining the award.

“Thank you for your interest in Iowa’s economic development programs,” Whipple wrote.

“I didn’t want to be in the middle of a lawsuit,” Garry Smith, a member of the Shepherd’s Garden board, told The Associated Press. “All I want to do is build the park. I don’t want to be in the middle of depositions.”

Smith said June 6 that FFRF’s objections prompted private donors to come forward so the project doesn’t need state money. The $810,000 park is on track for completion in the fall, he said.

“This was a no-brainer for anyone who knows anything at all about the Constitution,” said FFRF Co-President Annie Laurie Gaylor. “You don’t build a private park with public money. We’re expecting a card any day now in the mail from Shepherd’s Garden thanking us for shaking loose the cash from their donors, who most certainly must see this as a win for the free market.”

Freedom From Religion Foundation