Tempers Flare as Lodi Council Tackles Prayer Debate
August 6, 2009
Will Frampton — News 10/KXTV
At Lodi City Hall, you didn’t have to look hard Wednesday evening to figure out where people stood on the issue of the wildly controversial call to end prayers before city council meetings.
There were, in large numbers, those in favor of prayer before meetings. Meanwhile, in a more modest, but still prominent showing, others marched in support of a moment of silence during government affairs.
“I think everyone should be able to pray if they want to, just not as part of a government meeting,” said Lodi resident Brad Westover.
“I have no problem with these atheist groups,” said Gordon Klingenschmitt, a chaplain from Colorado. “I love them all in Jesus’ name.”
For nearly two hours, both sides protested within feet of each other in front of City Hall and City Council chambers. At the beginning, there was a brief exchange of shouting between several people on different sides of the issue.
Despite some loud debate, cooler heads prevailed and no one was hurt.
“Nobody’s been kicked out yet. It’s actually been very peaceful,” said David Diskin, Lodi resident and rally organizer for the people opposed to prayers before meetings.
His group was outnumbered, but he was still happy with the turnout.
“It’s exceeding my expectations by all means,” said Diskin, who only two weeks before had begun efforts to organize the rally.
Klingenschmitt had been working on his rally for nearly two months. A resident of Colorado, he regularly travels around the country to organize events in support of Christianity and use of Jesus’ name in prayer.
“As long as God blesses our efforts, I’m very pleased,” said Klingenschmitt.
The conflict began brewing in May when the Lodi City Council went through with their usual public prayer before a meeting. But during that meeting, someone in the crowd took exception to the display of religion in a government setting.
That person complained to the Freedom From Religion Foundation, and the complaint soon got back to the city council.
Since then, the prayers have been non-specific to any religion, and the council is still preparing to fully resolve the issue.
That resolution was supposed to come during Wednesday’s meeting, following the protests. The room was packed and the gathering began with a moment of silence, then a prayer without reference to any specific religion.
The council elected to delay their decision regarding the practice of prayer before meetings. But for the protesters — the evening was their chance to be heard.
Most said they felt good about it.
“I feel great,” said Elk Grove resident Bruce Holden. “I feel it was a great turnout of Christian people.”
“It feels good, feels like we’re making a stand,” said Brad Westover.
Lodi City Council members said they were postponing a ruling until they’ve taken care of other city business.