Calif. Council To Allow Prayer Before Meetings

The city of Lodi is facing a possible lawsuit after the City Council voted to support a policy of saying prayers before council meetings.

After the vote Wednesday, an official with the Wisconsin-based Freedom from Religion Foundation repeated the group's threat to sue the city.

Annie Gaylor, co-founder of the foundation, says the group will monitor the invocations under a modified prayer policy approved by the council.

In voting unanimously in favor of conducting prayers, council members said they felt they addressed the issue of a possible lawsuit by holding uncensored prayers before meetings are called to order.

Gaylor says the foundation will also monitor other cities in California with similar policies, including Tracy, Turlock and Tehachapi.

The decision came after about three hours of public comments.

Close to 500 people crowded into the Hutchins Street Square Theatre to express their views on whether the council should continue allowing invocations.

"My personal view is the two don't belong together at all," Adam Kowalczyk said.

"The logical answer is to allow the table to be open to all faiths," Bill Edwards added.

The council will now work on drafting formal language for the new policy, which will have to be voted on again.

The issue was so contentious that the meeting was moved to a larger facility to accommodate all the people expected to attend. Demonstrators gathered on the sidewalk on Hutchins Street Square.

"Anytime you say a pastor cannot pray in a certain way, you're censoring him," said Ken Owen from the group Citizens for Uncensored Prayer.

But the council was concerned that prayer centering on any one faith could lead to litigation against the city. Lodi Mayor Larry Hansen hopes to have prayer just before the meeting, but to keep it off the agenda. Demonstrators spoke out both for and against prayer.

Some insisted it still doesn't have a place in city business. "Bringing in religion into this is as silly as bringing religion into the school," said Dave Diskin of Lodi United.

The council was considering several options, which included removing invocations from the agenda, having a private prayer before the meeting, upholding and enforcing the city's previous policy regarding non-sectarian and non-denominational prayer, and allowing uncensored prayers from differing faiths. contributed to this article.

Copyright AP - Associated Press
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