- Associated Press - Thursday, December 15, 2016

ANCHORAGE, Alaska (AP) - The Kenai Peninsula Borough has been hit with a lawsuit over its decision to only allow members of established religious groups to pray at the beginning of assembly meetings.

The American Civil Liberties Union of Alaska filed the suit Wednesday, saying the assembly’s invocation policy is unconstitutional, KTVA-TV reported (https://bit.ly/2hypW4d).

The nonprofit organization said it filed the complaint on behalf of two people who gave nontraditional invocations at assembly meetings earlier this year. Lance Hunt had called on borough officials in July to create a united community and be empathetic to “one’s neighbors.” Iris Fontana, a member of the Satanic Temple, encouraged attendees of an August meeting to “embrace the Luciferian impulse to eat of the tree of knowledge.”

Both Hunt and Fontana were denied applications to deliver invocations after the assembly approved the new policy in October.

“Rather than picking invocation speakers in a fair and neutral manner, such as first-come, first-served, the Borough has decreed that some speakers are acceptable and others - like our clients Lance and Iris - are not,” the ACLU said in a release.

Under the new rule, only representatives of organizations that have been approved by the assembly can present invocations. Groups looking to qualify must submit an application, hold regular meetings in the Kenai Peninsula Borough and fall under the Internal Revenue Service’s criteria to be tax-exempt.

The assembly had initially passed the invocation policy in October, overriding a mayoral veto, but in November passed an amendment to delete the policy. Assembly member Blaine Gilman filed for a reconsideration vote which failed last week, reinstituting the policy.

The borough declined to comment on the lawsuit.

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Information from: KTVA-TV, https://www.ktva.com

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