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Kenai Borough Assembly overrides mayor's veto of religious invocation rule

  • Author: Annie Zak
  • Updated: October 26, 2016
  • Published October 26, 2016

The mayor of the Kenai Peninsula Borough on Tuesday vetoed a new rule that says only representatives of religious groups or chaplains may read invocations before the Assembly.

Mike Navarre said in a memorandum addressed to the Assembly that he favored being "inclusive rather than limiting" in deciding who can give an invocation.

Assembly members promptly shot down Navarre's effort, voting 6-3 to override his veto. Brandii Holmdahl, Kelly Cooper and Willy Dunne voted against the override.

Earlier this month, the Assembly adopted a resolution saying the person delivering an invocation to open a meeting must be a representative of a religious association approved by the Assembly, or by a chaplain who serves a fire department, law enforcement agency, hospital or similar group in the borough.

"This is part of a national debate we don't need to take the lead on, especially in this time of financial and economic uncertainty in Alaska and with the many other issues we are facing. It could have a large financial impact on the borough," Navarre wrote in his memorandum.

"If the borough is sued over the current policy, even if we prevail we can continue to be subject to future challenges and legal expense as other new cases are brought and decided."

The American Civil Liberties Union of Alaska and the national nonprofit group Freedom from Religion Foundation both sent letters to the Assembly last week calling the new resolution unconstitutional.

"We applaud Kenai Peninsula Borough Mayor Mike Navarre for listening to our concerns and vetoing the Borough Assembly's exclusions on who may give religious invocations," said ACLU of Alaska executive director Joshua Decker in an email, "but we are disappointed that the Assembly doubled-down on its unconstitutional policy and overrode the mayor's veto tonight."

Also at Tuesday's meeting, Cooper was elected to be the new Assembly president, effective immediately. She replaced Blaine Gilman.