Why is This New Christian Park Getting a $140,000 Boost from Iowan Taxpayers? May 20, 2014

Why is This New Christian Park Getting a $140,000 Boost from Iowan Taxpayers?

This is Shepherd’s Garden, a new Christian park being built in Sioux City, Iowa, that was created to “be 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”:

You can see the multitude of Prayer Spaces already, but their brochure indicates that they also plan to include a “Walk of Faith” Walkway, walkway stones with Bible verses, and crosses.

At first glance, this is one of those things that should elicit eyerolls from atheists, but not much else. (What, churches aren’t good enough anymore?)

But it turns out the money for the park isn’t just coming from private donors:

[Shepherd’s Garden board member Garry] Smith said the $810,000 project got a huge boost within the past month when it received notice that it would receive a $140,000 grant from the Vision Iowa program, which assists projects that provide recreational, cultural, entertainment and educational attractions.

In short, taxpayers are going to be funding this park that promises to draw “attention to the promise of new life in Jesus Christ that is available to all.”

The Freedom From Religion Foundation is already on top of things, sending a letter to the Chairwoman of Vision Iowa:

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 “The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want….” (An odd passage to quote given that Shepherd’s Garden was asking for money, so it was, by definition, wanting.) 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.

There’s just no way this could hold up in court. There’s not even a good way to spin this as a secular park; it’s being built explicitly for the purpose of advancing Christianity and the government is forbidden from helping them do that.


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