After brief encounter with satanism, Kenai Borough Assembly opts to continue invocations

Invocations before meetings of the Kenai Peninsula Borough Assembly will continue despite recent debate about whether they are appropriate to accompany government business, and despite a satanic invocation this month that led to peaceful protest outside the borough building. 

The Assembly voted Tuesday night against introducing two ordinances on the matter. One would have replaced the invocations with a moment of silence before meetings and the other simply would have done away with invocations.

The Assembly voted 4-4 on each, so neither advanced to introduction.

[Earlier coverage: Satanic Temple invocation opens Kenai Peninsula Borough meeting]

An ordinance to get rid of such prayers was first brought up for introduction in June but was shot down. The Assembly did, however, open up invocations on a first-come, first-served basis for anyone who wants to sign up to say one. In the past, Christian pastors almost always read prayers before the meetings.

In July, an atheist read an invocation focused on reason and logic instead of a religious message. Then, earlier this month, an invocation ending with "Hail Satan" kicked up more debate around what people do or don't want to hear before a government meeting.

That led to a group of Catholics praying in front of the borough building in Soldotna last week — complete with a giant cross — to counter the satanic message, and another group of protesters chanting back at them.

Despite the controversy, for now, nothing will change.

"I wasn't surprised, I was disappointed," at the votes in Tuesday's meeting, said Assembly member Brandii Holmdahl, who represents the East Peninsula. She brought back the June ordinance to get rid of invocations. 

She said that some Assembly members want to revise the language for what is considered an invocation, "so that whoever gives it, it will be something that encourages the Assembly to be wise and thoughtful in their decisions rather than allowing it to be a platform for one religion to fight with another." She didn't know what that language might look like.

[Prayers and secular chants reignite debate over invocations before Kenai borough assembly meetings]

Brent Johnson, the vice president of the Assembly, representing the Central district, sponsored the ordinance for a moment of silence. He wasn't exactly surprised by Tuesday's vote, either.

"Seems to me like religion is a very touchy subject," he said. "This is one of the few ordinances I've seen that has been attempted to be introduced and can't even make it into introduction. It's a taboo; we're not supposed to talk about it, I guess."

Gary Knopp, an Assembly member representing Kalifornsky, voted against introducing both ordinances.

"In no way, shape or form are we trying to influence anybody's religious beliefs," he said. "We're simply having invocation. Nobody is ever forced to participate, stand or bow or anything else."