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Atheists offer alternative to Focus on the Family series at Iowa Capitol
An Iowa organization dedicated to supporting non-religious individuals wants to ensure that a Christian educational series being shown in the Iowa Capitol does not go unanswered.
Dave Grzeskowiak, vice president of Iowa Atheists and Freethinkers, said his group learned that screenings of “The Truth Project,” a DVD series produced and marketed by the conservative group Focus on the Family, were being shown in the statehouse by reading about it in the Iowa Independent. In response, the group decided to present an opposing viewpoint.
Next Wednesday the group will bring Dr. Hector Avalos, professor of religious studies at Iowa State University, to room 103 at the statehouse for a discussion on evolution or “intelligent design,” which is one of several topics in the Focus on the Family series. The discussion will take place at noon and is open to anyone who wishes to attend.
“Our preference would be for this to be a non-issue and neither [event] to have been at the Capitol,” Grzeskowiak said. “But, because one already is, we feel it is our responsibility to present both sides. We are also very grateful to have the opportunity to do so.”
In January, The Iowa Independent learned that a room had been reserved inside the Iowa Capitol by a legislator for the purpose of showing the controversial Focus on the Family DVD educational series. The meeting, despite being held in a public facility, was not subject to any public notification by the state.
The Iowa Independent has since learned that very few meetings or events of the same nature — held in the statehouse with the room reserved by a lawmaker — are openly announced to the public on calendars produced and maintained by Capitol officials. Due to the lack of transparency in the existing process, several open-government advocates have called for changes, and The Iowa Independent has filed document requests in order to learn more about the types of meetings that take place in statehouse rooms.
The meeting being planned by the Iowa Atheists and Freethinkers is being openly announced by the organization, but is not required to appear on existing statehouse calendars.
Prior to the start of the legislative session, the Iowa group sent a letter to all Iowa representatives and senators asking them to end the practice of prayers that begin each legislative day. Chief among the group’s complaints is that the state pays the invited clergy a $10 stipend for the service as well as reimbursing round-trip mileage.
“We did the same last year and received absolutely no responses,” Grzeskowiak said. “This year, however, we received a few replies and have met with a few legislators. They have been very productive and very supportive, which, honestly, was something of a pleasant surprise.”
“I think [next week's Capitol event] is a large step toward the acceptance of non-religious people in society, which is really one of our main goals,” Grzeskowiak said.
Grzeskowiak declined to comment about which lawmaker made the room reservation on behalf of his group. The Iowa Independent has asked Capitol officials for the information but had not received a response by publication.
UPDATE at 2:40 p.m.: According to Mark Brandsgard, chief clerk of the Iowa House, the room that was reserved for the Iowa Atheists and Freethinkers was done so by state Rep. Bruce Hunter, D-Des Moines, However, Brandsgard’s records have no indication of the purpose of the meeting or on whose behalf the reservation was made, only that Hunter reserved the room.