When we wrote in this space that the policy on invocations adopted by the Kenai Peninsula Borough Assembly wasn’t necessarily a bad policy, we also stressed that it should be applied according to its stated intention, “in a way that is all-inclusive of every diverse religious association serving residents of the Kenai Peninsula Borough.”
We suggested that when considering an applicant to give an invocation, that means making every effort to be inclusive, rather than looking for reasons to exclude a speaker.
Unfortunately, the policy has not been interpreted that way.
Homer resident Elise Boyer, who is Jewish, applied in December to give an invocation before an assembly meeting, but her application was denied on the grounds that she is not a current member of a religious association with an established presence on the Kenai Peninsula and is not a chaplain serving fire departments, law enforcement agencies, hospitals or other similar organizations, as required by the policy, according to the amended complaint.
In other words, though she considers herself a practicing member of her faith, because she does not attend a formal synagogue — there isn’t one in Homer — she is not eligible to offer formal words of inspiration or guidance.
It is the narrowest possible reading of the policy, and does not live up to the expressed all-inclusive intent. Quite frankly, you can’t call a policy inclusive and then look for reasons to say “no.”
Boyer has since joined the lawsuit against the borough over the invocation policy.
It remains the assembly’s prerogative to invite a borough resident to provide an invocation to open its meetings, a tradition we think should continue. But invocation policy is “intended to acknowledge and express the assembly’s respect for the diversity of religious denominations and faiths represented and practiced among the residents of the borough,” and decisions like this one show just the opposite — a lack of understanding and acknowledgement of just how people across the borough, who may not have regular access to a formal congregation, still find ways to practice their faiths.