- Associated Press - Friday, October 28, 2016

KENAI, Alaska (AP) - The Kenai Peninsula Borough Assembly has voted to override the mayor’s veto of a new policy on invocations at assembly meetings.

The assembly revised its policy earlier this month to only allow members of religious groups with an established borough presence to give the invocation at the start of each meeting, The Peninsula Clarion reported (https://bit.ly/2eBtDqi).

Borough Mayor Mike Navarre vetoed it Tuesday, arguing for a more inclusive policy that he says will avoid getting the borough in legal trouble.

“I see no real problem with the practice in place before this policy was adopted,” Navarre wrote in a memo to the assembly. “Being inclusive rather than limiting those who may give an invocation is better public policy and less likely to get the borough involved in expensive litigation. Local ministers who have given invocations in the past have indicated support for an inclusive policy.”

But some members of the assembly disagreed. In a 6-3 vote following Navarre’s action Tuesday, the assembly overturned the mayor’s veto and let the new policy stand.

Assembly member Blaine Gilman said he thinks the policy is justifiable and that there needs to be rules put in place if the borough is going to allow invocations.

“I think it’s better if this resolution stays in place than having no policy, which is where we’ll be if the veto is not overridden, and like (it was) said, we can amend it later, but right now it’s better to have some policy in place than no policy in place,” Gilman said.

Stan Welles also opposed the veto, but for different reasons. The assembly member said allowing groups of all religions to give invocations before public bodies “is tantamount to killing public prayer.” He said he would support having the policy amended to only include Christian denominations.

“Respectfully, I submit that when James Madison drafted the First Amendment that he used (the word) ‘religion,’ whereas today if we were writing it, we would say ‘denomination,’” Welles said. “. If we were going to litigate, I would really encourage an effort to litigate for the removal of the stipulation or modify it to read, ‘must be open to clergy or persons of any denomination that worships the Lord God our creator, author of the Bible.’”

The American Civil Liberties Union of Alaska urged the assembly in a letter last week to drop the invocation policy or eliminate the prayer altogether by Nov. 28.

“Though we hope the Assembly will go back to letting anyone in the Borough offer invocations, we stand ready to protect the Constitutional rights of all religious believers, agnostics, and atheists,” said Joshua Decker, the group’s executive director.

The assembly’s Oct. 11 decision to change its invocation policy came after a member of the Satanic Temple gave the invocation at an Aug. 9 meeting. Iris Fontana encouraged attendees to “embrace the Luciferian impulse to eat of the tree of knowledge.” She closed her comments with, “Hail Satan. Thank you.”


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

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