With the open court discussion done, the plaintiffs and the Kenai Peninsula Borough may have to wait up to six months for a decision in the legal battle over the assembly’s invocation.
The attorneys for the borough and for the American Civil Liberties Union, which represented three plaintiffs from the borough, argued their cases before a judge on April 11 in Anchorage about the legality of the Kenai Peninsula Borough Assembly’s policy on who can give invocations. Neither side disagreed about the material facts that led up to the lawsuit, so they progressed to an oral argument — in which both sides make their case to a judge rather than to a jury — before the judge reviews the case and makes a decision.
Under Alaska court procedures, that ruling could come anytime between now and six months, said Kenai Peninsula Borough Attorney Colette Thompson at the assembly’s April 17 meeting in Seward.
When assembly member Willy Dunne asked whether the borough was planning for what might happen if the court decided against the borough, Borough Mayor Charlie Pierce said the borough would wait for a ruling to make any plans.
The American Civil Liberties Union of Alaska brought the case against the borough in December 2016 after a months-long public debate over the legality of a policy the assembly adopted in October 2016 on who is qualified to give the invocation before the assembly’s regular meetings. Under the policy as it stands, only members of a religious organization with an established presence in the Kenai Peninsula Borough that meets regularly to share a religious perspective or a chaplain serving hospitals, military, fire departments or other similar organizations can give an invocation before the meetings.
The ACLU, suing on behalf of borough residents Lance Hunt, Iris Fontana and Elise Boyer, all of whom applied to give the invocation after the policy was passed and were denied, claimed that the borough’s policy violated freedom of speech rights, freedom of association, equal protection under the law and the establishment clause, which prevents governments from establishing a religion.