Christian-themed Park Will No Longer Be Getting a $140,000 Boost from Iowan Taxpayers

Last month, we learned that Shepherd’s Garden, a Christian-themed park being built in Sioux City, Iowa, was set to receive a $140,000 grant from the taxpayer-funded “Vision Iowa” program:

The Freedom From Religion Foundation sent the Vision Iowa group a letter detailing the constitutional violations that taxpayers would be on the hook for if the courts ruled against them:

… 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.

Upon receiving that letter, the Vision Iowa board of directors said they would meet soon to review their options.

In the interim, there were some absolutely crazy ideas floating around, like the government official who said the tax money would only pay for the non-Christian parts of the garden.

Tina Hoffman, spokeswoman for the Iowa Economic Development Authority, which oversees Vision Iowa, said Friday the board is aware of the complaint and is conferring with legal counsel. A contract for the award has not been completed or signed.

Hoffman and Garry Smith, chief fundraiser for The Shepherd’s Garden, have said the grant would pay only for green space at the park and not for any of the Christian features.

That… made no sense. Reader Brian said it perfectly in the comments section at the Sioux City Journal:

Hey, using that ‘logic’, the government can use public tax money to pay for the “non-Christian” parts of a church, like the floor, walls, roof, etc. and the church would only need to pay for religious things like stained-glass windows, crosses, the pulpit, etc.

Well, the Vision Iowa meeting finally took place and there was a happy ending:

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 don’t know if you can see it, but there’s a giant middle finger sticking out of that last line from Whipple…

None of this would’ve been an issue if Vision Iowa followed the law from the get-go and didn’t grant public money to a Christian organization. It shouldn’t have taken them this long to do the right thing.

This is a win-win-win. Vision Iowa gets to give that money to a deserving group that wants to create something for all citizens, the FFRF gets to maintain church/state separation, and the Christian park will still be built using private funding. Just as it should be. It’s just sad FFRF had to play the role of watchdog once again.

(Large portions of this article have been posted before.)

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