Organizers of a planned Christian-themed park in Sioux City have declined a $140,000 state grant to avoid a controversy that arose after the grant was announced last month.
The Freedom From Religion Foundation of Madison, Wis., complained last month about funding the Christian-themed park, called the Shepherd’s Garden, with public money from Vision Iowa, a state economic development group. The Wisconsin group said the grant to the Shepherd’s Garden violated the U.S. and Iowa constitutions.
“I didn’t want to be in the middle of a lawsuit,” Garry Smith, a member of the Shepherd’s Garden board, said Friday. “All I want to do is build the park. I don’t want to be in the middle of depositions.”
An attorney for Freedom From Religion Foundation called the park group’s decision to turn down the money “a total victory for the separation of state and church.”
“We’re just happy it was done sooner rather than later and that we don’t have to go to court,” Freedom From Religion attorney Andrew Seidel said.
Last month, Smith defended the state funding, saying it would not have gone to pay for the park’s religious elements.
Plans for the park include a stone path with Bible verses, a “Walk of Faith” walkway and several prayer spaces.
Smith said Friday that the Wisconsin group’s objection has prompted private donors to come forward, and now the park project doesn’t need state money.
The $810,000 park is still on track for completion in the fall, Smith said.
SOURCE: The Associated Press