For the past couple of years, the Kenai Peninsula Borough Assembly in Alaska hasn’t been able to figure out how to handle invocations.
At one point in 2016, when the invocations were open to anybody, a Satanist delivered one with the line “It is done. Hail Satan.” And just like that, the policy changed. Speakers would only be drawn from an “Assembly-approved religious association”… which effectively shut out minority groups who can’t afford a building or who primarily exist online — Satanists, atheists, and the like.
A lawsuit was eventually filed, and this past October, a court ruled against the Assembly — as any lawyer could have predicted — but the Assembly did a couple of sensible things in response. They decided not to appeal the decision, which is good since they would’ve lost. They also loosened the invocation policy so that representatives from any group could speak once again. All candidates had to do was submit a written application.
It now looks like non-Christians have taken full advantage of that opportunity for 2019.
According to the Assembly’s website, 19 of the 20 slots for the year have already been filled up — c’mon, atheists, someone take October 8! — and the speakers include a mix of the not-so-usual suspects:
People started submitting their requests right after the resolution was adopted, said borough clerk Johni Blankenship. Almost all of the 20 spots for 2019 are filled. Among the people set to speak: a “non believer,” a Baha’i, Christian pastors, a Wiccan, a “pastafarian” — that’s the member of the Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster — and more.
“There’s quite an interesting cast of characters, and it looks like it’s a majority non-Christian as far as I can tell,” said Willy Dunne, an Assembly member representing the south Peninsula. “It’s become kind of … an area of debate over what should be a valid belief, prayer, to begin the meeting.”
Barrett Fletcher, the Pastafarian on the list (who’s also a Satanist), says he’d rather not have invocations at all. But if the door is open, he’s going through it.
He doesn’t think religiosity has “any right being in public discourse.” He’s set to give opening remarks in September but hopes it doesn’t come to that.
“The goal ultimately is to get rid of the invocation,” Fletcher said.
And, of course, one of the Christians on the list is extremely upset that certain people are allowed to do exactly what he’s doing.
Keith Hamilton, president of Alaska Christian College in Soldotna, is also on the list to give an invocation next year. He said he’s glad the invocations are continuing but he’s disappointed with the new policy.
“Leaving it open to any member of the Peninsula does leave it open for some … the idea that it would be used improperly,” he said, pointing to people possibly using invocations as an opportunity to make political statements.
Oh, please. What he’s doing by invoking Jesus is just as much of an issue as anyone else invoking politics. If he doesn’t like it, he can urge the Assembly to get rid of invocations altogether.
But maybe this is what the community needs. If they can’t handle a diverse group of speakers, then they should stop wasting their time and get to work. That would also be legally acceptable.
By the way, early last month, an invocation was delivered by Willy Dunne, the same Assembly member who said 2019’s invocations would be mostly non-Christian. He’s a member of the Last Frontier Freethinkers and he was also just elected to the Assembly in October. Watch this:
More power to that guy.
(Thanks to Brian for the link)