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Kenai Borough's invocation fight could get expensive, mayor says

  • Author: Carey Restino, Homer Tribune
  • Updated: November 20, 2016
  • Published November 20, 2016

Kenai Peninsula Borough Mayor Mike Navarre has asked the borough assembly to approve a $75,000 appropriation to allow the legal department to pay for legal fees relating to the borough's new invocation policy.

The appropriation will be introduced and testimony will be taken on Tuesday, Nov. 22, when the assembly next meets.

The assembly recently voted 6 to 3 to modify its invocation policy to permit only those with a religion approved by the borough to present the invocation at the beginning of each meeting.

The resolution states that 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.

The new policy was in response to a monthslong debate over whether to keep the invocation. Controversy arose after a member of the Church of Satan gave an invocation over the summer. That prompted a public outcry and protests from both those who support the invocation and those who oppose it. The assembly then responded by tightening its policies as to who could deliver the invocation, despite the fact that the Alaska Civil Liberties Union told the assembly the resolution limiting who could sign up to give invocations was unconstitutional.

Navarre attempted to veto the assembly's invocation policy, but was overridden by a 6-to-3 vote with Homer Assemblywoman Kelly Cooper, Southern Peninsula Assemblyman Willy Dunne and East Peninsula representative Brandii Holmdahl casting the only "no" votes.

Cooper, who is now the president of the assembly, said in an interview with KBBI that assembly members have offered several amendments, but to date said she hasn't seen any amendment that opens the policy up to individuals.

As the news of the potential appropriation circulated through social media, peninsula residents concerned about the appropriation were urged to testify or submit comments to the borough assembly through the clerk via email at jblankenship@kpb.us.

A second public hearing will be held on Dec. 6.

This story first appeared in the Homer Tribune and is republished here by permission.

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