Turlock puts ‘trust in God’
October 1, 2009
Patty Guerra — The Sacramento Bee
Residents of Oakdale, Lodi and Hughson argued for and against the policy of praying at meetings, but in the end the City Council opted to agree with a self- described “nobody special, just a chubby, gray-haired guy who’s lived in Turlock for a little over 20 years.”
“This community is one that was built on faith and trust in God,” said Dan Blank. “We were fortunate tonight to have a word of prayer to begin this meeting. … We appreciate what you do, but we appreciate even more our Father in heaven.”
The council unanimously passed a resolution that allows for invocations before the opening of meetings despite an appeal from the Freedom From Religion Foundation, which sent a letter to the city last month asking the council to halt the practice, calling such prayers “unnecessary, inappropriate and divisive.”
The foundation sent letters to other cities as well; Lodi has scheduled a public hearing later this month.
David Diskin of Lodi, like several other speakers, asked the council to implement a moment of silence instead.
“Our goal in Lodi is to show the City Council that they have an opportunity to show that the city is one of tolerance,” he said. He warned the council that the city is likely to face a lawsuit because of the vote to allow invocations.
Susan Robinson, who said she is an atheist, warned the council that a policy allowing invocations opens the city up to prayers from “Scientologists, secular humanists, pagans and even Satanists.”
If that sounds unappealing to the council, she said, “You should understand how nonbelievers find invocations.”
In a comment met with gasps from the audience of about 150, Robinson said that she could find passages in the Bible that show God in a poor light: “We have a hard time understanding how anyone can worship such an evil character.”
Council members said they believe the resolution, which calls for the invocation before the business of the meeting gets under way, does not create divisiveness. Most of the council members said they appreciated everyone who came forward and expressed different beliefs.
Councilman Ted Howze was more blunt:
“If you’re an atheist, if you don’t believe in a God, you should have a good time laughing at our foolishness,” he said. He said he hopes the Freedom From Religion Foundation will “respect Turlock and go away in peace when this is over.”
Mayor John Lazar said of those who addressed the council:
“I hope you feel this is a place you can come and share your thoughts without intimidation.” He said Turlock was founded on faith and expressed hope the council can “continue to reach out to all people. God bless you all.”
In a related item, the council delayed action on a proposal by Councilman Kurt Spycher to paint “In God We Trust” on the wall behind the council dais.
The council also unanimously approved an ordinance updating mobile vendor regulations. Vendors such as taco trucks will have to renew their permits each year; the new law also will regulate such attributes as canopies and tables.