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Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Lodi Resident Moves Town Toward Separating Church and State

Picture at right is of Jane Russell, who reported on demonstrations against the Lodi city council's prayer policy. From an Oct. 20 article by Maggie Creamer in the Lodi News-Sentinel:

The person who started the debate over prayers before Lodi City Council meetings has stepped forward and said a lawsuit is still on the table. Lodi resident Karen Buchanan made the original complaint about council prayers to the Madison, Wis.-based Freedom From Religion Foundation. The complaint prompted the organization to send a letter to the city in May telling the council to enforce its own policy of "non-sectarian and nondenominational prayer" and eliminate references to Jesus Christ or the foundation would sue.

Buchanan appeared on the foundation's radio show on Oct. 12 to speak about the council's decision to continue invocations and allow uncensored prayers. She said the council's decision needs to be challenged in court. "I didn't go to the council meeting to go to church, and so that whole arrangement seemed just totally out of place," Buchanan said on the show. "I felt uncomfortable with being in a church service and being asked to bow my head and to stand and to show respect to a God who is not part of who I am."

The council voted Sept. 30 to broaden its prayer policy to allow religious leaders to offer uncensored prayers and to be more inclusive. The policy also includes opening up the invocation or "Call to Civic Responsibility" to all religious and secular groups.

Buchanan, who has lived in Lodi for at least three years, had originally remained anonymous, but she decided to come forward after receiving support from groups in the area including Lodi United, which resident David Diskin formed to protest the council allowing prayers. "I was just bowled over because I had felt as though I was alone," Buchanan said on the show.

A Nov. 5 article by Maggie Creamer in the Lodi News reports on the first invocation under the new policy:

David Diskin, founder of Lodi United, gave the first invocation, or Call to Civic Responsibility since the council approved its new policy allowing anyone to participate. Diskin, who is an atheist, asked at the council's Wednesday meeting that people participate in their community by volunteering and helping others.

Lodi United opposed having any invocations and instead suggested the city remove the item completely or have a moment of silence. But after the council approved a new policy that allowed those who are not religious to give a Call to Civic Responsibility, Diskin said he'd be honored to participate. The policy also expanded the invocation or Call to Civic Responsibility to be uncensored as long as it does not attempt to convert anyone attending the meeting, advocate a political agenda, or assert the "accuracy, inaccuracy or primacy of any religious belief or lack thereof."

Invocations now occur before the meeting at 6:55 p.m. and are agendized on the council meeting with the following note:  "Invocation/Call to Civic Responsibility. Invocations may be offered by any of the various religious and non-religious organizations within and around the City of Lodi. Invocations are voluntary offerings of private citizens, to and for the benefit of the Council. The views or beliefs expressed by the Invocation Speaker have not been previously reviewed or approved by the Council, and the Council does not endorse the beliefs or views of any speaker."

Hat tip: Starchild

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