- Associated Press - Saturday, June 25, 2016

KENAI, Alaska (AP) - The Kenai Peninsula Borough Assembly will continue to begin every meeting with a prayer after tabling an ordinance that would end the practice.

The issue arose at the borough’s Tuesday meeting after members of the community had mentioned earlier this year that the invocation made them uncomfortable, The Peninsula Clarion reported (http://bit.ly/28UjC4f ). Borough code allows local religious leaders to offer a prayer before the assembly meeting. Those interested apply to the borough and are selected by the assembly president.

Assembly President Blaine Gilman proposed an ordinance that would end the practice.

“It is important that the assembly does what it reasonably can to help all residents feel welcome at assembly meetings,” Gilman wrote in a memo. “Additionally, if the invocation practice continues the assembly will have to develop policies and procedures to attempt to comply with legal requirements.”

Community members have said they are concerned about religion appearing in government proceedings, and that a prayer of a particular religion could offend those of different or no faith.

However, several members of the assembly felt the proposed ordinance wasn’t even worth a vote and Gilman’s proposal didn’t make it to introduction.

“To me, it’s somewhat appalling that we’re even having this conversation,” said assembly member Gary Knopp. “I can’t hardly even fathom that we want to ban invocation at these meetings. We’ve never denied anybody the right to speak or give invocation.”

While Knopp was vehemently opposed to eliminating the invocation, other assembly members conceded that the invocation procedure could be more inclusive, though more than one person questioned where the line should be drawn.

“Everybody is free to pray the way they want to, but we’ve gotten some written testimony too that people feel like the public shouldn’t be subjected to religious viewpoints,” said assembly member Willy Dunne. “I would hate to see any kind of religious test imposed on anybody … before they gave an invocation. I would like to see this introduced for public hearing to have a more healthy discussion.”

Others questioned if rewriting the invocation qualifications would allow groups they are not comfortable with to come speak.

“How do you feel about the Church of Satan coming in and saying they have a right to come in and pray?” asked assembly member Brandii Holmdahl.

Pastor and former military chaplain Albert Weeks said the borough needs to change the language of the prayer or the qualifications to be inclusive to all groups rather than eliminate the prayer entirely. He said those who wish to pray should be part of a recognized religious group.

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Information from: (Kenai, Alaska) Peninsula Clarion, http://www.peninsulaclarion.com

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