Assembly member Willy Dunne started the final Kenai Peninsula Borough Assembly meeting of 2018 with the first invocation under the borough’s new policy allowing individuals with no established religious group to deliver an invocation.
The invocation, presented at the beginning of assembly meetings, played the center role in an Alaska Superior Court case spearheaded by the American Civil Liberties Union of Alaska — Hunt et al. v. Kenai Peninsula Borough.
This October, the court ruled that the borough’s invocation policy violated the Alaska Constitution by restricting who may give the invocation.
The borough’s policy had only allowed chaplains from an array of organizations or members of “established” religious organizations that meet in the borough regularly to deliver an invocation.
The court found that the policy violated the establishment clause, which prohibits the government from establishing preference for certain beliefs or religions over others.
“We are grateful Judge Peterson (of the Alaska Superior Court) agreed with our position that in America, the government cannot declare first class faiths and second class faiths,” said ACLU of Alaska Executive Director Joshua A. Decker. “The ACLU of Alaska is proud to stand up for the freedom to peacefully worship for all faiths free from governmental judgement.”
Following the court’s decision, the borough assembly decided against an appeal (ending the nearly two year court battle) and adopted a new policy that opened the invocation to unaffiliated individuals – a return to the borough’s original policy.
Until 2016, the invocation was given by any interested individual on a first-come, first-served basis. Then, in summer of 2016, Kenai Peninsula College student Iris Fontana delivered an invocation.
“Let us embrace the Lucifer impulse to eat the tree of knowledge,” Fontana said. “It is done, Hail Satan. Thank you.”
The Satanic Temple invocation sparked protests and counter-protests, spurring the borough to limit the scope of who may give an invocation.
But now, the policy is back to first-come, first-serve and Dunne started the Dec. 4 with an invocation from the Last Frontier Freethinkers, a group of non-theists on the Kenai Peninsula committed to the application of critical thinking, reason, science, and experience to better understand the universe and to solve human problems.