The Kenai Peninsula Borough Assembly voted down another proposed change to its invocation policy. The change was brought forward by Assembly Member Willy Dunne.
“One of the reasons I brought this forward was that at our last assembly meeting, we heard a lot of public testimony and there seemed to me to be a pretty overwhelming desire for the public to change the policy that we have. There’s a restrictive policy now. That’s what has us in court. Some think it’s a discriminatory policy. Some think it was intentionally designed to exclude one or more beliefs or individuals," said Dunne.
It would have changed some of the language of the current policy. Some of the changes included that nobody would be asked to join in prayer to a specific deity and if a specific deity were to be invoked, people would not be asked to join in prayer. It also included a line calling for respect for all religious beliefs of borough residents.
Dunne said he brought it forth because his constituents are looking for options to solve this issue that has now been going on for more than six months.
Assembly Member Wayne Ogle ultimately voted against the change but did vote for postponing the overall vote, alongside Dunne and President Kelly Cooper -- a measure which also failed.
“I think what is on the table does not exclude or deny an opportunity for a would-be prayer-giver," Ogle said. "The assembly or the borough does not seek to define permissible categories of religious speech and it better reflects the democratic value of welcoming diverse ideals to the public sphere.”
The assembly heard from people on both sides of the aisle during public comment. Carrie Henson, of Soldotna, said she was concerned with some of the language of the change.
“I am deeply concerned by 1D because the language is very subjective and this body has already proven that just by giving an invocation that does not meet the Christian standard of prayer is considered to be political," she said.
She has given the invocation several times over the last year and said she’s not sure why more people aren’t stepping up to give one if it’s such an important piece of the meetings.
Kasilof’s George Pierce spoke out against the change, saying the invocation policy should stay as is.
“I encourage you to keep the invocation the way it was," he said. "Nobody gets hurt. It’s been that way. If people don’t like what the prayer says, get up and walk out.”
The resolution failed 6-3 with only Dunne, Cooper, and Assembly Member Jill Schaefer in favor.