Lodi prayer battle draws in others
August 4, 2009
Roger Phillips — Recordnet.com
Standing outside Carnegie Forum, leaders of two out-of-town organizations argued Monday afternoon that invocations in the name of Jesus Christ should be permitted at Lodi City Council meetings.
They said the Constitution, the courts and the Bible are on their side and suggested they have the support of Lodi clergy, though they declined to identify anyone. Their news conference was sparsely attended.
The two men said they are fighting not just for Christian invocations but for prayers at City Council meetings by ministers of all faiths, “even Muslims and Buddhists.” They also said they would not oppose a non-believer giving an invocation.
“Let atheists get up and say, ‘Good luck,'” said Gordon James Klingenschmitt, a former Navy chaplain and founder of the Pray in Jesus Name Project.
The leaders of the prayer movement have organized a rally for 6 p.m. Wednesday before Lodi’s council meeting. Lodi resident David Diskin has organized a counterdemonstration for 5:15 p.m. Diskin said he is an atheist but added that he is not interested in saying “good luck” or anything else at a future council meeting.
“I think (invocations) should be omitted from the agenda, or there should be a moment of silence, allowing everybody to pray to their own personal god or to no god at all,” said Diskin, who stood on the side while watching Monday’s news conference.
The issue has been percolating for some time. Three years ago, Councilman Larry Hansen – now Lodi’s mayor – acknowledged that the city might have been in violation of a court decision related to pre-meeting prayers. Still, city leaders often have looked the other way as Christian pastors have broken the city’s rule by invoking Jesus’ name in their invocations.
Klingenschmitt has been circulating a petition on his group’s Web site that says, “Jesus is not an illegal word, the Bible is not a banned book, and evangelistic speech is not a crime.” He said more than 5,000 people have signed the petition, including nearly 3,000 Californians.
He was accompanied at Monday’s news conference by Randy Thomasson, president of SaveCalifornia.com, which last year took part in the campaign that passed the anti-gay-marriage Proposition 8 in California.
Of the Lodi campaign, Thomasson said, “If atheists are able to squash religious freedom in Lodi, they’re going to be hungry to squash religious freedom in more and more cities.”
The Rev. Bill Cummins of Lodi’s Bear Creek Community Church said outside groups on both sides should allow the situation to be resolved locally.
Thomasson’s organization has a Sacramento mailing address, and Klingenschmitt’s group is based in Colorado. A national organization based in Wisconsin that fights to keep religion out of government also has weighed in on the matter.
Cummins said he led the invocation at Lodi’s council meeting in late June. He said he kept Jesus’ name out of it.
“Mentioning the name is becoming a real point of contention,” Cummins said. “I can pray to the God of the Bible without mentioning that one five-letter word.”