National group stlll plans prayer before Aug. 5 council meeting
July 21, 2009
Chaplain Gordon Klingenschmitt still plans to be in Lodi on Aug. 5 even though the Lodi City Council has postponed its discussion on an invocation policy that night.
“I’ve already got my plane ticket. I already advertised the rally,” the former Navy chaplain said.
The Madison, Wis.-based Freedom From Religion Foundation threatened a lawsuit against the city in May. The foundation warned that the city must start enforcing its own policy requiring all prayers to be “non-sectarian and non-denominational.”
Klingenschmitt founded the national organization Pray in Jesus Name Project, based out of Colorado Springs, Colo. He has advertised the meeting on his Web site and on Christian radio shows.
His group still plans to hold a prayer meeting with other local religious leaders at 6 p.m. on Aug. 5 on the steps of Carnegie Forum.
But the council has decided not to discuss prayer at that meeting.
The council was tentatively scheduled to discuss whether to change its policy at the meeting, but will instead focus on other city businesses, city spokesman Jeff Hood said.
“The discussion could really take a lot of time and push off things that are time-sensitive,” Hood said.
The invocation issue is not time-sensitive, Hood said, because the city has already abided by the foundation’s request to make sure religious leaders leave Jesus Christ out of its prayers.
Before the foundation sent the letter, the city would send a card informing potential religious leaders about the city’s prayer policy. Now, a staff member in the city clerk’s office is calling the leaders and asking them if they agree to abide by the city’s policy. Only one leader has refused to come pray.
But Klingenschmitt said it is important to keep the name of Jesus Christ in the prayers before the council meetings, and he wants the council to know people will support them if they decide to fight it in court.
“It’s possible that Lodi and Tracy may not be the first battleground, but the last battleground. Other cities have already gone to a moment of silence in California,” he said. “If we don’t win in Lodi and Tracy, it’s possible the name of Jesus could become extinct in prayers across the state.”Tracy also received a letter from the foundation asking them to institute a policy that would not allow religious leaders to say Jesus Christ during their prayer.
Klingenschmitt is happy to have the extra time to continue raising money to help pay for the city’s legal expenses if the council decides to fight the foundation in court. He plans to raise $10,000, even though the Alliance Defense Fund has offered to have its lawyers work for the city pro bono. The national organization has a team of lawyers to defend public institutions from prayer-based litigation.
While the ADF has offered to defend the city, there still could be other expenses associated with litigation if the city lost, Klingenschmitt said. The $10,000 would be used to pay the Freedom From Religion Foundation’s legal expenses if the city did lose so that would ensure no tax payers money would be used, he said.