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“It was my intention when I first proposed the ordinance to have it repealed based on voter approval,” Dunne said.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

Traffic moves toward Sterling along the Sterling Highway shortly after the roadway reopened. A fatal crash closed the highway for several hours Wednesday, Feb. 24, 2021. (Photo by Erin Thompson/Peninsula Clarion)
Sterling Highway crash kills Soldotna boy

The accident closed a section of the Sterling Highway for several hours Wednesday.

A legislative aide enters the Alaska State Capitol as a worker clears snow from in front of the building on Thursday, Feb. 25, 2021, in Juneau, Alaska. The Alaska House speaker announced on Wednesday, Feb. 24, that a House member had tested positive for COVID-19. (AP Photo/Becky Bohrer)
House disrupted after positive COVID-19 test

Alaska House Republicans identified the lawmaker as Rep. Mike Cronk of Tok, a member of their caucus.

Dr. Anne Zink addresses members of the media during a remote press conference on Thursday, Feb. 25 in Alaska. (Screenshot)
Nearly 150,000 Alaskans are vaccinated; Dunleavy ‘doing well’

103,120 pairs of vaccine, or about 206,240 doses, were allocated to Alaska for the month of March.

The entrance to the Kenai Municipal Cemetery is seen on Thursday, Feb. 25 in Kenai, Alaska. (Ashlyn O’Hara/Peninsula Clarion)
Kenai, Soldotna making headway on cemetery expansion

Both cities hope to complete expansion efforts this year

A sign describing bluff erosion is seen on Kenai North Beach in Kenai, Alaska, on Aug. 6, 2020. (Photo by Jeff Helminiak/Peninsula Clarion)
Kenai reiterates bluff importance in letter to state

The project would stabilize about 5,000 feet of bluff on the Kenai River’s north shore

A statue of Brother Asaiah rests under a protective wooden structure on Thursday, Feb. 18, 2021 outside KBBI Public Radio in Homer, Alaska. (Photo by Megan Pacer/Homer News)
Statue of famed Homer local finds new home at public radio station

Brother Asaiah Bates statue had to move after previous location changed ownership

Kenai City Hall on Feb. 20, 2020, in Kenai, Alaska. (Photo by Victoria Petersen/Peninsula Clarion)
Grocery incentive program goes live Monday in Kenai

The program aims to help people double the money they are able to spend on groceries and household goods

Gov. Mike Dunleavy speaks at an Anchorage news conference on Dec. 11, 2020. (Courtesy photo / Office of Gov. Mike Dunleavy)
Governor tests positive for virus

Dunleavy had been in quarantine since learning Sunday.

This undated map shows three wildlife enhancement projects on the southern Kenai Peninsula, Alaska, planned or done by the Alaska Department of Fish and Game. (Map courtesy of Alaska Department of Fish and Game)
3 projects on southern Kenai Peninsula aim to benefit moose habitat

Cut willow bushes will regenerate into higher protein browse for moose

Most Read