Pastafarian pastor Barrett Fletcher speaks in opposition to a new borough policy, which says only borough volunteer chaplains may deliver the invocation, a during a Kenai Peninsula Borough Assembly meeting on Tuesday, Dec. 12, 2023, in Soldotna, Alaska. (Ashlyn O’Hara/Peninsula Clarion)

Pastafarian pastor Barrett Fletcher speaks in opposition to a new borough policy, which says only borough volunteer chaplains may deliver the invocation, a during a Kenai Peninsula Borough Assembly meeting on Tuesday, Dec. 12, 2023, in Soldotna, Alaska. (Ashlyn O’Hara/Peninsula Clarion)

Satanic Temple gets last word as assembly ends open invocation policy

Effective Jan. 1, assembly invocations will be delivered exclusively by volunteer chaplains who serve the borough’s fire and emergency medical service areas

“Hail Satan.”

That’s the line that closed out the Kenai Peninsula Borough Assembly’s final invocation of 2023, and the last invocation to be delivered by a member of the public. Effective Jan. 1, assembly invocations will be delivered exclusively by volunteer chaplains who serve the borough’s fire and emergency medical service areas, as designated by the assembly president.

“Let us embrace the Luciferian impulse to eat at the tree of knowledge and dissipate our blissful and comforting delusions of old,” read Iris Fontana, of the Satanic Temple, during Tuesday’s meeting. “Let us demand that individuals be judged for their concrete actions, not their fealty to arbitrary social norms and illusory categorizations.”

The assembly approved the policy change, which was introduced by Kenai Peninsula Borough Mayor Peter Micciche, Assembly Vice President Tyson Cox and assembly member Kelly Cooper, last month. In bringing the proposed change forward, Micciche said recent assembly invocations had become unpredictable, unproductive and had strayed from the objective of helping focus assembly members ahead of their meeting.

Tuesday’s invocation marked a sort of full-circle moment for the borough.

Fontana was one of three plaintiffs represented by the American Civil Liberties Union in a 2017 lawsuit alleging that the borough’s invocation policy impaired their constitutional rights. That policy restricted who could deliver assembly invocations to religious associations with an “established presence” on the Kenai Peninsula.

The Alaska Superior Court in 2018 ruled against the borough, determining that the policy violated the Establishment Clause of the Alaska Constitution, which says that “No law shall be made respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.” As a result, the borough was forced to pay $80,000 in legal fees to the ACLU and adopt a new invocation policy, which was in effect until last month.

Pastafarian Barett Fletcher made national headlines after delivering an invocation on behalf of the Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster. Donning a chrome colander, Fletcher told assembly members Tuesday that he didn’t testify about last month’s proposed policy change because “it didn’t occur to (him) that it could possibly have passed.” Pastafarianism founder Bobby Henderson also spoke out against the policy.

“I interject some humor into my protest and try to keep it light, but I am deadly serious about my defense of the First Amendment of the United States Constitution,” Fletcher told the assembly. “I’ll be listening very closely to the chaplains that will be giving the invocation from now on, and if I happen to hear them invoke any specific deity while failing to acknowledge the true creator of the universe, great Flying Spaghetti Monster, I’ll be suing.”

The only way to discourage proselytizing during invocations, Fletcher concluded, is to get rid of invocations altogether.

That was also a suggestion of the Freedom From Religion Foundation, a nonprofit organization with a stated goal of promoting the separation of church and state and to educate the public about nontheism. In a three-page letter, that group said the borough’s new policy effectively allows the borough to pick and choose who will give invocations and suggested that the invocation practice be dropped entirely.

Satanist invocations offered by Fontana have previously drawn criticism, and Tuesday was no exception. As reported by the Alaska Watchman, Kenai resident Toby Burke organized a Catholic group prayer outside of the borough building ahead of Tuesday’s meeting. Burke said Wednesday that about five people gathered for the prayer.

“Our purpose was to oppose the public Satanic invocation with public prayers of reparation to God Most High Himself,” Burke said via email.

Assembly members during Tuesday’s meeting also heard from Dr. Keith Hamilton, who prayed a benediction over assembly members during a time designated toward the end of the meeting for additional public comments.

“We pray together for our borough that peace and safety and prosperity would come our way as we seek you, Lord, in these chambers from this day forward,” Hamilton said. “We pray together in the name of Jesus, whose birthday makes all the difference in our lives. Amen.”

The next borough assembly meeting is scheduled for Jan. 2, 2024. That meeting will be the first to which the invocation policy approved last month will apply. Micciche has said previously that the chaplain most likely to deliver assembly invocations moving forward is one of the two currently serving Central Emergency Services in Soldotna.

Tuesday’s assembly meeting will be available to stream on the Kenai Peninsula Borough website at kpb.legistar.com.

Reach reporter Ashlyn O’Hara at ashlyn.ohara@peninsulaclarion.com.

Audience members listen to Iris Fontana, of the Satanic Temple, deliver an invocation during a Kenai Peninsula Borough Assembly meeting on Tuesday, Dec. 12, 2023, in Soldotna, Alaska. Fontana was the last person to deliver an assembly invocation before a new borough policy, which says only borough volunteer chaplains may deliver the invocation, takes effect. (Ashlyn O’Hara/Peninsula Clarion)

Audience members listen to Iris Fontana, of the Satanic Temple, deliver an invocation during a Kenai Peninsula Borough Assembly meeting on Tuesday, Dec. 12, 2023, in Soldotna, Alaska. Fontana was the last person to deliver an assembly invocation before a new borough policy, which says only borough volunteer chaplains may deliver the invocation, takes effect. (Ashlyn O’Hara/Peninsula Clarion)

Iris Fontana, of the Satanic Temple, delivers an invocation during a Kenai Peninsula Borough Assembly meeting on Tuesday, Dec. 12, 2023, in Soldotna, Alaska. Fontana was the last person to deliver an assembly invocation before a new borough policy, which says only borough volunteer chaplains may deliver the invocation, takes effect. (Ashlyn O’Hara/Peninsula Clarion)

Iris Fontana, of the Satanic Temple, delivers an invocation during a Kenai Peninsula Borough Assembly meeting on Tuesday, Dec. 12, 2023, in Soldotna, Alaska. Fontana was the last person to deliver an assembly invocation before a new borough policy, which says only borough volunteer chaplains may deliver the invocation, takes effect. (Ashlyn O’Hara/Peninsula Clarion)

Audience members listen to Iris Fontana, of the Satanic Temple, deliver an invocation during a Kenai Peninsula Borough Assembly meeting on Tuesday Soldotna. Fontana was the last person to deliver an assembly invocation before a new borough policy, which says only borough volunteer chaplains may deliver the invocation, takes effect. (Ashlyn O’Hara/Peninsula Clarion)

Audience members listen to Iris Fontana, of the Satanic Temple, deliver an invocation during a Kenai Peninsula Borough Assembly meeting on Tuesday Soldotna. Fontana was the last person to deliver an assembly invocation before a new borough policy, which says only borough volunteer chaplains may deliver the invocation, takes effect. (Ashlyn O’Hara/Peninsula Clarion)

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