Lodi California becomes battlefront for public prayer debate

Lodi is just a small city in the heart of California's Central Valley. But tonight, it takes center stage for one of the nation's hottest issues.

The question is: Should the City Council allow invocations that call on Jesus at its public meetings?

Intense interest prompted the council to move tonight's meeting to Lodi's 900-seat theater in Hutchins Street Square.

A rally urging separation of church and state is planned for 5:30 p.m. outside. The council meeting is 6:30 p.m.

But for at least two national groups, the siege has moved in the last two years from the East Coast to towns in California's Central Valley.

In Lodi, the opponents are the "non-theist" (a.k.a. "atheist") Freedom From Religion Foundation vs. the Arizona-based Alliance Defense Fund, a self-described defender of religious liberty.

The Freedom From Religion Foundation is making its case across the state and has sent warning letters to the cities of Tracy, Tehachapi, Turlock and Lodi about what it calls unconstitutional religious practices.

"We have a complaint going out soon to Bakersfield," said foundation Co-President Annie Laurie Gaylor. "No 'D,'" she said of her name spelling. "There's no 'Lord' in my name."

More than 20 "brush fires" on the issue have arisen nationally, she said. But now California is the focus.

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