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

The Alaska State Capitol is seen on Wednesday, April 6, 2022. (Peter Segall / Juneau Empire)
Legislature modernizes 40-year-old definition of consent in sexual assault cases

‘Alaska took a gargantuan step forward in updating our laws,’ says deputy attorney general

Project stakeholders cut a ribbon at the Nikiski Shelter of Hope on Friday, May 20, 2022, in Nikiski, Alaska. (Ashlyn O’Hara/Peninsula Clarion)
Stakeholders celebrate opening of Nikiski shelter

The shelter officially opened last December

Peter Segall / Juneau Empire
Gov. Mike Dunleavy speaks with reporters Thursday about the state’s budget at the Alaska State Capitol. Dunleavy said lawmakers had sent a complete budget, and that there was no need for a special session.
Dunleavy: No need for special session

Governor calls budget “complete”

A magnet promoting the Alaska Reads Act released sits atop a stack of Alaskan-authored and Alaska-centric books. Lawmakers passed the Alaska Reads Act on the last day of the legislative session, but several members of the House of Representatives were upset with the bill, and the way it was passed. (Ben Hohenstatt / Juneau Empire)
In last-minute move, Legislature passes early reading overhaul

Rural lawmakers push back on Alaska Reads Act

Graduates wait to receive diplomas during Connections Homeschool’s commencement ceremony on Thursday, May 19, 2022, in Soldotna, Alaska. (Ashlyn O’Hara/Peninsula Clarion)
Connections honors more than 100 graduates

The home-school program held a ceremony Thursday in Soldotna

Alaska Senate President Peter Micciche, left, and Senate Minority Leader Tom Begich, right, meet with reporters in Micciche’s office in the early morning hours of Thursday, May 19, 2022, in Juneau, Alaska, after the Legislature ended its regular session. Micciche, a Republican, and Begich, a Democrat, discussed their working relationship, as well as well as parts of the session they were either pleased with or disappointed with. (AP Photo/Becky Bohrer)
After House balks at bigger figure, budget OK’d with $3,200 payout per Alaskan

Budget finishes as second-largest in state history by one measure, but Dunleavy could make cuts

Loren Reese, principal at Kenai Alternative High School, gives Oliver Larrow the Mr. Fix It award Wednesday, May 18, 2022, at Kenai Alternative High School in Kenai, Alaska. (Photo by Jeff Helminiak/Peninsula Clarion)
Kenai Alternative graduates 22, says goodbye to principal

The ceremony included special awards customized for students

Graduates throw their caps into the air at the end of Soldotna High School’s commencement ceremony on Wednesday, May 18, 2022, in Soldotna, Alaska. (Ashlyn O’Hara/Peninsula Clarion)
‘We never fell down’

Soldotna High School honors more than 100 graduates

Brandi Harbaugh gives a presentation during a joint work session on Tuesday, March 2, 2021, in Soldotna, Alaska. (Ashlyn O’Hara/Peninsula Clarion)
Mill rate decrease, max school funding included in proposed borough budget

The final document is subject to approval by the Kenai Peninsula Borough Assembly

Most Read