The invocation that started the Kenai Peninsula Borough Assembly's Tuesday meeting was a little different than usual: Instead of espousing the ideals of Christianity, it carried a message of Satanism.
It was the culmination of recent discussion at the Assembly around whether to keep up with the tradition of opening meetings with prayers, or whether doing so was excluding those who hold different beliefs.
In June, the Assembly discussed an ordinance aimed at doing away with invocations before meetings, but not enough members voted in favor of introducing it.
Instead, the borough has decided to make the reading of invocations more equitable. In the past, said Assembly President Blaine Gilman from Kenai, a group of pastors would usually give the names of members who would give the invocation. Now, it's on an open, first-come, first-served basis: someone who wants to give an invocation can contact the borough clerk and sign up to do so.
The woman who gave the invocation at Tuesday's meeting, Iris Fontana, called up Satan for Assembly members and the audience.
"Let us embrace the Luciferian impulse to eat of the tree of knowledge and dissipate our blissful and comforting delusions of old," said Fontana, who the Assembly identified as a member of the Satanic Temple. "Let us stand firm against any and all arbitrary authority that threatens the personal sovereignty of all or one. That which will not bend must break, and that which can be destroyed by truth should never be spared its demise. It is done. Hail Satan."
During Fontana's invocation, one Assembly member walked out of the room and returned when she was finished speaking. But others remained, listening, not much different than any other meeting. One staff member sat down during the prayer, and another staffer stood with hands on hips.
Dale Bagley, an Assembly member from Soldotna, took issue with the satanic remarks later in the meeting.
"It's kind of irritating that that's what we got there," said Bagley, "and I think that if a pastor had been here doing the same type of political statements on something, we wouldn't be letting them back here. But anyway, that just my 2 cents on this issue."
In July, an atheist read an invocation before an Assembly meeting.
"Only when we calm our minds and let our dogmas dissolve in the face of evidence can we show true wisdom," Lance Hunt said at the start of a meeting. "I urge you to try and walk a mile in the opposition's shoes, and let reason and logic guide your compassion to a decision."
Gilman said the local government started to get complaints about religious invocations making some people uncomfortable two or three months ago.
"I thought it was kind of politically distracting myself, and filed an ordinance to remove the invocation," he said. But when it came up for discussion in June and he heard from community members in support of invocations, he voted against introducing it. The vote was a tie, so it was tossed out.
Now, Gilman sees those who have invoked during the last two meetings as trying to make a political point.
"I think it's more a political strategy, to try to force the invocation to be removed from the Assembly," he said. "Personally, I found it sort of offensive, the Satanic Temple lady who was speaking there, but even if I find it personally offensive, it's still important to protect the right to freedom of speech and the right for religion."
In the meeting Tuesday, he said, "I think if we just kind of relax a little bit, listen to people, things will calm down on the invocation front and we can just go forward with our meetings."
The change in the process for signing up to give an invocation has also attracted attention. Gilman said just about every meeting from now through December is booked up with someone who wants to give opening remarks.
And he said this isn't the first time the prayers have been the subject of a debate.
"I think it pops its head up every four or five years," he said.
You can watch video of the meeting on the borough's website.
Correction: This article has been edited to reflect that staff members, not Assembly members, sat down and stood with hands on hips during the invocation.