Assembly to consider invocation policy

The topic of appropriate invocations will come back before the Kenai Peninsula Borough Assembly at its next meeting on Oct. 11.

The borough assembly is scheduled to consider a resolution revising its policy governing who can give the invocation before the body’s meetings. The resolution, sponsored by Borough Assembly President Blaine Gilman and assembly member Dale Bagley, will go into effect immediately if the borough assembly passes it at the Tuesday meeting. Because it is a resolution, it can be considered and passed at one meeting rather than having to delay for public hearing.

Controversy arose over the borough’s long tradition of beginning meetings with an invocation this summer when several members of the public said the invocation at a public meeting made them uncomfortable. An ordinance to remove the place in the agenda for the invocation died before introduction, and the borough assembly instead opted to allow anyone interested from any religion to offer the invocation.

Outcry from some members of the community arose again when a member of the Temple of Satan offered an invocation before the assembly in August. One member of the borough assembly left the room and several members of the audience as well as some borough staff sat instead of standing. About a week later, a group of members of the Catholic Church offered prayer in front of the borough assembly building and counter-protestors staged a protest around them.

Two assembly members filed ordinances for the following meeting related to the invocation, one transitioning it to a moment of silence and another eliminating it, but both failed before introduction.

“If the assembly is to continue allowing invocation to be offered at the beginning of its meetings, it is important to do so in a manner consistent with the law,” Gilman and Bagley wrote in their memo to the assembly for the most recent attempt to address the invocations. “This resolution would establish a policy containing guidelines that are intended to be consistent with the current law governing invocations offered for local governmental legislative bodies.”

The policy they outline in the resolution would set up formal guidelines for what is already being done in some form. A change made earlier this year — in which Gilman began prefacing the prayer with a statement that no one has to participate in the prayer and may stand or sit as they prefer — would be written into policy. No member of the assembly or borough employee would be able to direct the public to participate in the prayer or make note of a person’s presence, absence, attention or inattention during the prayer, nor “indicate that decisions of the assembly will in any way be influenced by a person’s acquiescence in the prayer opportunity.”

Any person on what the proposal calls an Associations List could offer invocations. The borough clerk would post a notice on the borough’s website calling for all religious organizations with an established presence in the Kenai Peninsula Borough that regularly meet to “share a religious perspective,” or chaplains who serve fire departments, law enforcement agencies, hospital or other similar organizations. The authorized leader of one of those organizations or a chaplain would be able to apply to he borough clerk’s office to offer an invocation.

Currently, no formal policy exists for what qualifies someone to offer a prayer before the borough assembly. Policies on invocations at borough assemblies around Alaska vary — some, such as the Northwest Arctic Borough, simply list a place for an invocation in their municipal code, while the Fairbanks North Star Borough policy specifically says, “Nonsectarian Invocation” and others, including the Municipality of Anchorage and the Matanuska-Susitna Borough, have no place in their assembly procedures for an invocation, according to their municipal codes.

Under Gilman and Bagley’s resolution, the borough clerk would compile and maintain a database of the qualifying associations and chaplains that have submitted requests to deliver the invocation. Invocations would be scheduled on a first-come, first-serve basis, and if no one is available to give the invocation, the assembly president may designate an assembly member to give the invocation. That being said, though invocations are accounted for on the assembly’s agenda, they are not required to be given if no one signs up to give them.

The intention is not to be exclusive, according to the resolution. If a question arises about the legitimacy of an applicant, the assembly president will judge by whether the organization applying would qualify under the Internal Revenue Service’s criteria for tax-exempt status. The only guidelines for the content of an invocation would be not to proselytize or advance any faith or to disparage another person’s religion or lack thereof.

“The policy is intended to be and shall be applied in a way that is all-inclusive of every diverse religious association serving the residents of the Kenai Peninsula Borough,” the resolution states. “The Association List is compiled and used for purposes of logistics, efficiency, and equal opportunity for all of the community’s religious leaders, who may themselves choose whether to respond to the assembly’s invitation and participate.”

The resolution will come before the assembly at its Oct. 11 meeting.

Reach Elizabeth Earl at elizabeth.earl@peninsulaclarion.com.

More in News

Kenai Peninsula Borough Mayor Charlie Pierce attends the March 2, 2021, borough assembly meeting at the Betty J. Glick Assembly Chambers at the Borough Administration Building in Soldotna, Alaska. (Photo by Ashlyn O’Hara/Peninsula Clarion)
Former talk-show host to manage Pierce gubernatorial campaign

Jake Thompson is a former host of KSRM’s Tall, Dark and Handsome Show and Sound-off talk-show

Deborah Moody, an administrative clerk at the Alaska Division of Elections office in Anchorage, Alaska, looks at an oversized booklet explaining election changes in the state on Jan. 21, 2022. Alaska elections will be held for the first time this year under a voter-backed system that scraps party primaries and sends the top four vote-getters regardless of party to the general election, where ranked choice voting will be used to determine a winner. No other state conducts its elections with that same combination. (AP Photo/Mark Thiessen)
How Alaska’s new ranked choice election system works

The Alaska Supreme Court last week upheld the system, narrowly approved by voters in 2020.

Gov. Mike Dunleavy speaks to a joint meeting of the Alaska State Legislature at the Alaska State Capitol on Tuesday, Jan. 25, 2022, for his fourth State of the State address of his administration. Dunleavy painted a positive picture for the state despite the challenges Alaska has faced during the COVID-19 pandemic and its effects on the economy. (Peter Segall / Juneau Empire)
Gov points ‘North to the Future’

Dunleavy paints optimistic picture in State of the State address

A COVID-19 test administrator discusses the testing process with a patient during the pop-up rapid testing clinic at Homer Public Health Center on Tuesday, Jan. 25, 2022. (Photo by Sarah Knapp/Homer News)
Free rapid COVID-19 testing available in Homer through Friday

A drive-up COVID-19 testing clinic will be held at Homer Public Health Center this week.

In this Sept. 21, 2017, file photo, former vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin speaks at a rally in Montgomery, Ala. Palin is on the verge of making new headlines in a legal battle with The New York Times. A defamation lawsuit against the Times, brought by the brash former Alaska governor in 2017, is set to go to trial starting Monday, Jan. 24, 2022 in federal court in Manhattan. (AP Photo/Brynn Anderson, File)
Palin COVID-19 tests delay libel trial against NY Times

Palin claims the Times damaged her reputation with an opinion piece penned by its editorial board

COVID-19. (Image courtesy CDC)
COVID-19 at all-time high statewide

The state reported 5,759 new cases sequenced from Jan. 21-23

Volunteers serve food during Project Homeless Connect on Jan. 25, 2018, at the Soldotna Regional Sports Complex in Soldotna, Alaska. (Erin Thompson/Peninsula Clarion file)
Project Homeless Connect to provide services, support on Wednesday

The event will be held at the Soldotna Sports Complex on Wednesday from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m.

The logo for the Kenai Peninsula Borough School District is displayed inside the George A. Navarre Borough Admin Building on Thursday, July 22, 2021 in Soldotna, Alaska. (Ashlyn O’Hara/Peninsula Clarion)
Schools aim for business as usual as cases reach new highs

On Monday, there were 14 staff members and 69 students self-isolating with the virus

Triumvirate Theatre is seen on Monday, Feb. 22, 2021 in Nikiski, Alaska. The building burned in a fire on Feb. 20. (Ashlyn O’Hara/Peninsula Clarion)
Triumvirate construction on hold as theater seeks additional funding

The new theater is projected to cost around $4.7 million.

Most Read