Vision Iowa to meet about disputed grant for Christian park in Sioux City

2014-05-23T21:30:00Z 2015-03-19T18:56:08Z Vision Iowa to meet about disputed grant for Christian park in Sioux CityCHRISTOPHER BRAUNSCHWEIG Sioux City Journal

SIOUX CITY | The Vision Iowa board of directors will meet June 11 to discuss whether it should take any action in response to concerns over a state grant awarded to a planned Christian park in Sioux City.

The Freedom From Religion Foundation sent a letter dated May 19 to state officials saying a $140,000 grant for The Shepherd's Garden violates the First Amendment.

Andrew Seidel, staff attorney for the Madison, Wis.-based group, said Wednesday that Vision Iowa should rescind the grant because it constitutes government support of religion.

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.

A fundraising brochure describes the park, under construction at the corner of Sixth and Jackson streets, as a “location for outdoor events and Christian displays” and says the project was inspired by "concern over the retreat of Christianity from the public square."

Smith, of Sioux City, has said The Shepherd's Garden board did not try to hide the religious aspect of the $810,000 park but separated out those elements on its grant application.

“We are moving forward,” he said Friday. “I am hoping this is a nonissue.”

A local citizen brought the matter to the attention of Siouxland Freethinkers, a community of atheists, agnostics, humanists and skeptics based primarily in Sioux Falls, a member of the group's board said. Eric Novotny said the citizen was concerned that the grant award violated the Constitution.

"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. "When (he) contacted us, we pointed him to the Freedom From Religion Foundation."

Copyright 2015 Sioux City Journal. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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