Kenai Assembly’s prayer list broadens after policy change

ANCHORAGE — The list of people signed up to deliver invocations to the Kenai Peninsula Borough Assembly includes Christian pastors, atheists and a member of the Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster.

Nearly all of the 20 spots for 2019 have been filled after the borough Assembly adopted a new policy in November, allowing any borough resident to submit a written request to offer an invocation, the Anchorage Daily News reported this week.

“It’s still somewhat a controversial issue, and it’s going to be interesting to see how people react to what some may consider fringe religions — the Wiccan, atheist, Flying Spaghetti Monster, the Satanic Temple,” said Willy Dunne, an Assembly member. “They’re all lined up to give invocations.”

The policy change followed a state Superior Court ruling in October that found the borough’s previous policy violated a ban on the government establishing an official religion or favoring one religion over another. The previous policy stated invocations could only be delivered by chaplains serving agencies or members of locally established religious organizations. The borough had claimed the policy adopted in 2016 was inclusive of all religious groups.

A lawsuit was brought against the borough after an atheist, a member of The Satanic Temple and someone from Homer’s small Jewish community were not allowed to give invocations. Invocations are “supposed to be some type of encouraging word” for the Assembly as the meeting begins, said Wayne Ogle, the Assembly president.

“The only thing I hope is that everybody provides a good-faith invocation to the best of their ability,” Ogle said. “That’s what it’s all about, to be some kind of inspirational focus. It’s for the Assembly, not for the public.”