Borough ends legal battle over invocation policy

Nov 21, 2018

 

The assembly answered two questions Tuesday night in order to bring the two-plus year legal fight to a close.

The legal fight about the Kenai Peninsula Borough’s invocation policy is over. The assembly had two questions to answer about it last night.

One decision, settled by a 5-4 vote, gave up on an appeal to a recent superior court ruling that the policy was unconstitutional, as it restricted who could give an invocation prior to assembly meetings. Whether to appeal was just one question for the assembly.

With that settled, it addressed a resolution to bring the policy into compliance with the law. One proposal, seemingly the simplest one, called for a moment of silence at the beginning of a meeting. But many on the assembly appreciate the more divine aspects to that moment. Norm Blakeley thinks bringing in a chaplain is the right answer.

“As far as a moment of silence, I think a chaplain could probably handle that very well. A chaplain could be inclusive of everyone and everything that goes on. That’s one of the reasons I would like to have some more information, to be able to pursue this and make sure that what we’re doing, it doesn’t rise again in a few years, few months or few days.”

But giving that moment just to a chaplain ignores the main legal problem of exclusion. The problem isn’t finding someone to speak on behalf of all faiths, it’s not extending the invitation to people of all faiths or people of no faith. Assembly member Kelly Cooper supports a simple moment of silence and says anything beyond that will, at best, only serve most borough residents. Not everyone.

“What I struggle with and what has been frustrating for the past two and a half years, is we’re supposed to be peaceable. Not peaceful. Peaceable. That means we’re supposed to understand what other people believe and be mindful of their beliefs, just as we expect them to be mindful of ours. We’re so divided everywhere right now, from our community in Homer to the borough to the state to the country; at some point we have to say this isn’t a battle we have to do today. This isn’t a battle we have to win.”

But the battle is over. With a 7-2 vote, the assembly adopted the resolution laying out guidelines for a new policy that will allow individuals not affiliated with an established religious group to give invocations.