Vision Iowa Grant for Shepherd's Garden Comes Under Fire

A plan to turn a downtown eyesore into a "Peace Garden" is drawing fire for the way it's been funded.Work is already underway on turning the open lot at sixth and Jackson into the First Presbyterian Church's "Peace Garden." The lot has sat empty for years after the old YWCA was torn down. Recently, a $140,000 grant from the Vision Iowa Board was the last part of the financing needed to start construction on the more than $800,000 project.But now, a Wisconsin group called "The Freedom from Religion Foundation" has sent a letter saying the use of public money for a religious purpose violates the U.S. and state constitutions. State officials disagree, saying the Vision Iowa money will pay for the green space at the park, not for any of the park's religious elements. "The board was aware that this project, it was really described as a meditation park, they knew that it had some elements to it that were religious in nature and they were clear, obviously, that state funds could not be particularly expended for those areas. The intent of the board is to make sure that the contract is explicit and clear about that component," said Tina Hoffman, Communications Director for the Iowa Economic Development Authority.Organizers hope to have the planting in the garden finished in September.