Former Navy Chaplain Gordon James Klingenschmitt has flown to Lodi, Calif., which has become the latest battleground over praying in the name of Jesus Christ.
Klingenschmitt, who previously went on a hunger strike to protest for the right to invoke Jesus' name, is expecting hundreds of people to join him Wednesday for a "Stand Up for Jesus" statewide prayer rally.
"Jesus is not an illegal word, the Bible is not a banned book, and evangelistic speech is not a crime," he wrote in an online petition that has collected more than 5,000 signatures.
The petition is directed toward Lodi City Council and Mayor Larry Hansen who are considering changing their prayer policy to possibly ban all prayers.
For years, the city council has had prayers at the start of their meetings and most of the prayers have invoked the name of Jesus.
But in May, atheists and agnostics at the Freedom From Religion Foundation sent the council a letter of complaint over the prayers, saying they "impermissibly advance Christianity."
The Madison, Wis.-based group has not threatened to sue but it has not ruled it out either, according to Annie Laurie Gaylor, co-president of the foundation.
The city's policy requires all prayers to be "non-sectarian and non-denominational."
Klingenschmitt, who founded the national organization Pray in Jesus Name Project, and other religious leaders argue that praying in Jesus' name is constitutional. At a press conference Monday, he said they are standing up for Christian invocations as well as for permitting prayers of other faiths, including that of Muslims, Buddhists and even non-believers, at council meetings.
"Please do not cave-in to atheist intimidation by the enemies of religious liberty, including Americans United and the Freedom From Religion Foundation, who are threatening to sue to silence all prayers," the online petition states.
Klingenschmitt is hoping for a good turnout at Wednesday's prayer rally. Otherwise, if Christians don't show up, the city council may end up banning all forms of prayer, the former Navy chaplain warns.
Atheists have also planned a rally that same day.
"I think (invocations) should be omitted from the agenda, or there should be a moment of silence, allowing everybody to pray to their own personal god or to no god at all," Lodi resident David Diskin told The Record newspaper.
The city council has opted to open the debate to the public. The prayer policy will be discussed at a meeting later this year.