Brian Mazurek / Peninsula Clarion file                                Debbie Hamilton gives an invocation March 5 at the Kenai Peninsula Borough Assembly Meeting in Soldotna.

Brian Mazurek / Peninsula Clarion file Debbie Hamilton gives an invocation March 5 at the Kenai Peninsula Borough Assembly Meeting in Soldotna.

Invocation ordinance likely to be pulled at assembly

The ordinance would end the offering of invocations before the beginning of assembly meetings.

An ordinance eliminating invocations during Kenai Peninsula Borough Assembly meetings is scheduled for a vote at Tuesday’s meeting, however, the ordinance’s sponsor is likely to withdraw the item completely.

Assembly member Willy Dunne sponsored an ordinance that would end the practice of offering of invocations before the beginning of assembly meetings. The ordinance would put that question to the residents for a vote.

“It was my intention when I first proposed the ordinance to have it repealed based on voter approval,” Dunne said. “I later found out it would only be an advisory vote.”

The assembly has the authority to amend its meeting agenda without voter approval. Dunne said he had concerns about the advisory vote, which is not binding.

The ordinance was introduced just weeks after a resident and member of the Satanic Temple, Iris Fontana, provided an invocation at the June 18 meeting, which prompted walkouts from borough officials and a protest outside the borough building.

In a June 20 memo from Dunne to the assembly, he said recent invocations have resulted in controversial and divisive actions in the community.

“Borough assembly policy states that invocations are presented to meet the spiritual needs of assembly members,” the memo reads. “However, recent invocations have failed to accomplish that.”

In the memo, Dunne says removing invocations will save the borough taxpayers’ money and reduce divisiveness in the community.

“It is expected that assembly members can find ways to have their spiritual needs met outside of public meetings,” Dunne said in the memo.

The borough’s invocation policy has sparked yearslong controversy.

In October, the borough lost a lawsuit against plaintiffs represented by the American Civil Liberties Union of Alaska in a fight over its invocation policy, which allowed certain groups and individuals to offer an invocation at the beginning of each meeting. The plaintiffs, Lance Hunt, an atheist, Fontana and Elise Boyer, a member of the Jewish community in Homer, all applied to give invocations after the policy was established in 2016. All three were denied because they didn’t belong to official organizations with an established presence on the peninsula. They sued and the ACLU Alaska agreed to represent them.

Anchorage Superior Court Judge Andrew Peterson ruled the invocation policy violated the Alaska Constitution’s establishment clause, which is a mandate banning government from establishing an official religion or the favoring of one belief over another. Article 1, Section 4 of the constitution provides that “no law shall be made respecting an establishment of religion.”

In November, the assembly voted against appealing the Superior Court decision and passed an updated invocation policy allowing more people the ability to give invocations at assembly meetings.

More in News

The badge for the Kenai Police Department (Clarion file)
Walmart briefly evacuated after bomb threat

The investigation is ongoing.

Peninsula Clarion file
Merry voices to fill Kenai chamber

Historical society carolling event returns after hiatus

COVID-19. (Image courtesy CDC)
State officials urge vaccination as omicron spreads in US

Omicron was first identified as a “variant of concern” by the World Health Organization on Nov. 26.

Alaska State Troopers logo.
1 hunter dead, another missing after boat hits rough seas off Whittier

The pair were reportedly hunting on Wednesday on Esther Island in Prince William Sound.

Kenai City Council members James Baisden (left) and Deborah Sounart (right) listen as member Teea Winger (center) speaks in support of legislation opposing government COVID-19 mandates, during a meeting of the Kenai City Council on Wednesday, in Kenai.
Kenai council declares opposition to mask mandates

The statement does not change city code or supersede federal law.

Signage indicates that face masks are required for entry to the Soldotna Public Library on March 25, 2021 in Soldotna, Alaska. The Soldotna City Council voted Wednesday to make mask-wearing optional in city facilities. (Ashlyn O’Hara/Peninsula Clarion)
Masks recommended, not required in Soldotna city buildings

Council amends measure to make mask-wearing optional

Nick Begich III, seen here in this undated photo, is challenging Rep. Don Young, R-Alaska, for his seat in the U.S. House of Representatives saying Alaska needs new energy in Washington D.C. (Courtesy photo / Alaskans for Nick Begich)
Nick Begich III touts fiscal conservatism in US House race

GOP candidate challenges Young’s record

Sockeye salmon. (Photo via Alaska Department of Fish and Game)
Fish and Game seeks comment on 2022 sport fish stocking plan

The Sport Fish Division plans to release approximately 7 million fish into the Alaska water systems over the next five years.

A map shows which parts of the Chugach National Forest are open to motorized winter recreation use for the 2021-2022 season. (Map courtesy of the U.S. Forest Service)
Parts of Chugach National Forest open to snowmachine use

The 2021-2022 winter motorized season will run through April 30.

Most Read