Professed Satanist Iris Fontana has one last chance to commandeer the opening invocation at the Dec. 12 Kenai Borough Assembly meeting for her controversial “hail Satan” invocation.
Thanks to a new policy, unanimously approved at the assembly’s Nov. 7 meeting, all future invocations will be offered by professional borough chaplains. The new protocol kicks in on Jan. 1.
Under the old policy, anyone from the public could sign up to offer an opening prayer – first come, first serve. Fontana, who claims to be a member of The Satanic Temple, has repeatedly signed up to make divisive public appeals to Satan. Likewise, a member of the Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster has utilized the prayer slot to share his beliefs in an almighty Spaghetti Monster.
U.S. Congress and most state legislatures have invocations offered by trained chaplains, a practice that was upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court in its 1983 decision in March vs. Chambers.
That’s been happening, off and on, since at least 2018 thanks to an Alaska Supreme Court opinion that claimed the borough could not bar Satanists from prayer without violating their First Amendment religious liberties.
That ruling led to all sorts of “prayers” delivered by political activists and spoof religionists. Others gave divisive political speeches, sang songs or delivered mini-sermons.
Starting Jan. 1, all invocations will be given by trained volunteer chaplains who serve the borough’s fire and emergency medical service areas. If they aren’t available, an assembly person will offer a prayer.
Kenai Mayor Peter Micciche, along with Assembly members Tyson Cox and Kelly Cooper introduced the change in order to keep the invocations from continually devolving into absurdity.
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Prior to the Nov. 7 vote, Micciche said he supported the change as a way to bring the invocations back to their intended purpose. He noted that the prayer time was an opportunity to gather one’s thoughts, clear the mind and have someone pray for the work ahead.
He also recalled that the U.S. Congress and most state legislatures have invocations offered by trained chaplains, a practice that was upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court in its 1983 decision in March vs. Chambers.
Before calling for a vote on the issue, Assembly President Brent Johnson ran through a brief history of borough prayers, starting with the first-ever assembly meeting in the 1960s. He noted that various pastors, officials, assembly members and community residents gave prayers.
It wasn’t until the last five years, however, that the invocations began a source of widespread division for the community.