LODI — Lodi City Council meetings have opened with Christian blessings, a Muslim prayer and even a call to civic responsibility from an atheist.
But about 10 months after the council enacted a new prayer policy, the organization that originally complained about the council's policy still has its eye on Lodi for a lawsuit.
The Freedom From Religion Foundation, based in Madison, Wis., is reviewing 20 places around the country where it has received complaints about prayers during governmental meetings, staff attorney Rebecca Markert said.
In California, the group also has complaints in Turlock, Tracy, Tehachapi, Bakersfield, Fresno and Manteca.
"I'm actually working on generating a list of all of our outstanding complaints, and am going to meet with our co-presidents to determine where to take a lawsuit," Markert said.
She has not studied Lodi's policy for opening council meetings since it was changed, so she could not comment on how likely it would be for the group to sue Lodi. "We will determine the best-case scenario," she said.
The council decided to broaden its policy to allow religious leaders to offer uncensored prayers, which can include references to Jesus Christ. The policy includes opening up the invocation or "Call to Civic Responsibility" to all religious and secular groups.
Councilman Larry Hansen, who was mayor at the time, said the policy has been working well.
"I'm pleased because it's open to everybody, and they get to pray to the dictates of their conscience. ... What more could you ask? I just think we've got the fairest policy around," Hansen said. He worked with local religious leaders to draft the policy, and said he does not believe the city should be challenged by an outside organization.
"This is a local issue and doesn't need organizations dictating how we handle our meetings, and that's a freedom of religion issue in and of itself," Hansen said.
There have been 14 prayers since the policy has been implemented. There also have been more moments of silence than in the past, which take place when no one signs up for that meeting.
Hansen said he is not sure why the moments of silence have increased.
"It might be one of those things where you fight really hard, and then you move on. We don't go out and solicit, we wait to be contacted," he said.
Local pastors had these reactions:
"I'm in agreement. I felt that I helped draft the policy. We got together with Larry Hansen. I was very concerned Larry was in a situation where he didn't want to be. The church was in a situation we didn't want to be ... we said, 'Larry, how can we help you solve this problem?' "We are respectful to all interests that want to come and offer that kind of leadership." — John Kah, pastor at St. Peter Lutheran Church
"The policy is very workable and respectable to all parties, and those that are religious and not religious. "The previous policy was a bit vague as to what was allowed or what is not allowed." — Steve Newman, pastor at First Baptist Church of Lodi
"I think if we do this, it is important to include everyone. ... I basically have always tried to be sensitive to that issue. Certainly, I know God's grace is on the council and supports our city." — David Hill, pastor at Grace Presbyterian Church
"I think the policy is fine. It allows people to pray as they need to pray. I like the fact that it's inclusive, and allows the entire community to participate. I think the City Council did what it needed to do, and we came up with a good solution." — Mark Price, pastor at St. Paul Lutheran Church