To block Satanic invocations, Alaska borough adopts pro-Christian prayer policy
The Kenai Peninsula Borough Assembly is just daring someone to sue
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For several years now, the Kenai Peninsula Borough Assembly in Alaska has allowed volunteers to deliver the opening invocation, creating a forum where diverse perspectives were represented.
Last month, however, they ended that policy, saying that future invocations should be limited to chaplains who work for the fire and emergency medical service areas. In effect, this means Christians—and only Christians—will be delivering invocations from this point onward.
It’s not the first controversy involving these prayers. Back in 2016, the Assembly was on the verge of getting rid of the invocations entirely, but they foolishly chose to keep them in place. It didn’t take long for Satanist Iris Fontana to volunteer to give an invocation—she ended it with the words “It is done. Hail Satan”—leading officials to craft a new policy effectively blocking Satanists and atheists from doing what she did.
Those groups sued. Those groups won. The borough had to pay over $80,000 in legal fees.
It seems borough officials finally had enough.
On November 7, the Assembly once again amended its invocation policy. Instead of getting rid of it altogether (which would be the correct move), Mayor Peter Micciche decided only pre-approved chaplains (i.e. Christian ones) could give those prayers.
Resolution 2023-075, which was adopted by a unanimous vote of the Assembly’s nine members, says that “over recent years drawn-out, politically and religiously motivated speeches have become more frequent than true invocations” and that “a chaplain could more precisely execute a timely invocation specifically asking for help and support for the Assembly and Borough while remaining politically neutral and neutral with regard to religious affiliations.”
That’s bullshit, of course. They automatically discount non-Christian invocations as not “true” invocations, implying that the only ones that count are the ones they agree with. They also claim their new policy is religiously neutral, but that’s a lie. The end result will be to shut out minority faiths that don’t have the ability to jump over all the necessary hurdles to become, say, an official fire department chaplain.
It doesn’t matter how often the policy mentions neutrality; it’s clearly not inclusive in practice, and that’s the point. Officials think this is an easy way to shut out everyone else.
Bobby Henderson, the creator of the Pastafarians, said as much on his website:
The proposed amendment by Kenai’s officials might streamline meeting protocols, yet it could also exclude many voices, including ours, which goes against the inclusivity that is foundational to our nation’s values. We advocate for a policy that either embraces all expressions of faith or opts for a neutral, secular space that truly accommodates everyone.
As the Kenai Borough Assembly considers policy changes, we underscore the importance of upholding the freedoms enshrined in our Constitution — the freedom of and from religion. It’s crucial to preserve the right for all faiths, including those like ours, to share our beliefs in public forums.
In order to demonstrate the Board’s respect for the diverse range of religious and nonreligious citizens living in Kenai Borough, we urge you to concentrate on civil matters and leave religion to the private conscience of each individual by ending the practice of hosting prayers at your meetings. If you continue hosting prayer at your meetings, you must ensure your invocation policy does not discriminate against satanists, atheists, or members of other minority religions.
Obviously, the Assembly didn’t listen. The new policy goes into effect on January 1, 2024.
“Hail Satan,” was recited again on Dec. 12 by Iris Fontana of the Satanic Temple, who had also read from her smart phone a message in support of her beliefs, “Let us embrace the Luciferian impulse to eat at the tree of knowledge and dissipate our blissful and comforting delusions of old. Let us demand that individuals be judged for their concrete actions, not their fealty to arbitrary social norms and illusory categorizations.”
The question now is whether anyone will sue when the new policy goes into effect, and there already appears to be a taker:
Fritz Creek community member Barrett Fletcher, wearing a steel colander on his head and representing the “Pastafarians” or Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster, told the Assembly he will probably file a lawsuit over the new invocation procedure. He said the only way to get rid of unwanted invocations was to ban them altogether.
“I’ll be listening very closely to the chaplains that will be giving the invocation from now on, and if I happen to hear them invoke any specific deity while failing to acknowledge the true creator of the universe, the great Flying Spaghetti Monster, I’ll be suing,” he said.
Fontana did not respond to my request for comment as to whether she would join a possible lawsuit.
You may be wondering how a non-Christian can even apply to become a chaplain in those departments and the answer is… ¯\_(ツ)_/¯
There are no clear guidelines about it. There is a website for the Alaska Police and Fire Chaplains, though, and they have an application where prospective chaplains have to fill out their experience, past chaplaincy appointments, the seminary they attended, professional references, church history, etc.
Even if it doesn’t require applicants to explicitly profess belief in the Christian God, the fact remains that non-Christians and members of minority faiths have virtually no way of becoming an official chaplain because they don’t have the religious infrastructure required to give them the experience they need. They are shut out of the chaplaincy, which means they’re shut out of delivering invocations in Kenai.
Reporter Ashlyn O’Hara of the Peninsula Clarion even noted the limited options:
The next borough assembly meeting is scheduled for Jan. 2, 2024. That meeting will be the first to which the invocation policy approved last month will apply. Micciche has said previously that the chaplain most likely to deliver assembly invocations moving forward is one of the two currently serving Central Emergency Services in Soldotna.
As FFRF noted in its letter, there is legal precedent prohibiting “purposeful discrimination” like when another county removed “Jews, Muslims, Jehovah’s Witnesses, and Mormons from a list that it used to select invocation-speakers.” In another case, a Florida county that adopted a similar measure was forced to pay $490,000 as part of a settlement.
That’s apparently the same route the officials in Kenai want to take.
Instead of just praying on their own before the meeting, they’ve enacted a discriminatory policy that prevents non-Christians from delivering a public prayer at meetings. They could be sued over it. And if they are, they will lose because there’s nothing even remotely ambiguous about what they’re doing.