A Wisconsin-based group that promotes the separation of church and state has demanded the Tracy City Council stop the practice of opening its meetings with prayer.
For the past 40 years the Central Valley has invited people of all religions to give a prayer before meetings, according to the Tracy Press. The invocation occurs after the audience recites the Pledge of Allegiance. Although all religions are invited to give the invocation, it is usually given by a Christian pastor.
The Freedom From Religion Foundation, acting on behalf of three upset Tracy residents, wrote a six-page letter to the city complaining the practice violates federal and state law.
"The prayers currently given during council meetings impermissibly advance Christianity and lead a reasonable observer to believe that the council is endorsing not only religion over nonreligion, but also Christianity over other faiths,'' wrote attorney Rebbecca Kratz.
The organization has roughly 130 members in the Tracy area and over 2,500 members in the state of California, said the foundation’s co-president Annie Laurie Gaylor.
The foundation is taking similar action against the city of Lodi. The Lodi City Council will vote on the use of prayer during a meeting on August 5, 2009.
In 2007, the council’s own city attorney recommended the council ban certain religious references during the invocation, according to reporter San Joaquin Herald. However, the council reportedly ignored the suggestionand voted to continue prayers as normal.
Tracy public affairs officer Matt Robinson said the council attorney will put the issue on the council’s agenda in August or September. According to Robinson, the decision to use prayer before meetings is up to the city council because they are the governing body.
Still, the Freedom From Religion Foundation is not ready to stop the fight. “We’ve just started,” said Gaylor. “We hope that we will educate and they will realize they have to do the right thing."