The Turlock City Council received a letter from the Madison, Wisconsin based Freedom From Religion Foundation (FFRF) urging the Turlock City Council to discontinue the practice of sectarian prayers as part of the official government meetings and to bring the Council back into compliance with constitutional dictates.
Similar letters were received by the Lodi City Council on May 26, 2009 and the Tracy City Council on June 30, 2009.
FFRF Staff Attorney Rebecca S. Kratz stated in the Turlock letter that “I am writing on behalf of a concerned Turlock resident and taxpayer and other California members of the Freedom From Religion Foundation (FFRF)…”
The same opening statement appeared in the Lodi and Tracy letters.
All the letters site court cases supporting Councils to discontinue their scheduled prayers at Council Meetings, and specifically that unconstitutionally reference Christianity and invoke Jesus Christ.
FFRF stated in their letter that Turlock has mostly Christian prayers at the Council Meetings. Councilman Kurt Spycher has said that he has invited anyone interested to contact him but that he generally doesn’t hear from anyone new. Spycher said that any faith leader has the opportunity to offer the invocation at the Turlock City Council Meetings.
A common solution to this issue is that City’s make and enforce a prayer policy allowing only nonsectarian prayers.
It is not known if the City of Turlock currently has a prayer policy in place. The Turlock City Attorney is researching the issue.
City Manager Roy Wasden said “This will be discussed at a Council meeting in the near future and a formal policy will be adopted.”
In the meantime, the Christian nonprofit group Alliance Defense Fund has already offered its services free of charge.
Councilman Kurt Spycher also submitted an Op-Ed piece to all media stating “We will be working with our City Attorney and other constitutional law scholars to develop a policy that honors our traditions while complying with the Constitution. However, I intend to defend our right to participate in the cherished and lawful American tradition of legislative prayer.”
At the August 25, 2009 Turlock City Council Meeting, Mayor John Lazar announced that the City Council had received a letter requesting Council stop invocations at the meetings and that the City Attorney was working on a policy. The prayer was said before the officially scheduled Pledge of Allegiance and the start of the Council Meeting.
According to the Freedom From Religion Foundation’s website:
What is the Foundation’s purpose?
The Freedom From Religion Foundation, Inc., is an educational group working for the separation of state and church. Its purposes, as stated in its bylaws, are to promote the constitutional principle of separation of state and church, and to educate the public on matters relating to nontheism.
Incorporated in 1978 in Wisconsin, the Foundation is a national membership association of freethinkers: atheists, agnostics and skeptics of any pedigree. The Foundation is a non-profit, tax-exempt organization under Internal Revenue Code 501(c)(3). All dues and contributions are deductible for income tax purposes.
What are the Foundation’s accomplishments?
The Foundation acts on countless violations of separation of state and church on behalf of members and the public, including: Prayers in public schools, payment of public funds for religious purposes, government funding of pervasively sectarian institutions, and the ongoing campaign against civil rights for women, gays and lesbians led by churches.
Freedom From Foundation Letters: