In the summer of 2016, the Kenai Peninsula Borough Assembly became embroiled in a contentious battle over opening its meetings with prayer. The assembly put what some consider an unconstitutional policy in place after a member of the Satanic Temple ended an invocation with “Hail Satan.” Little over a year later, the battle is ongoing. The issue is still winding its way through the courts and several peninsula residents on both sides of the issue comment on the topic regularly at meetings, but one Homer man is fighting against the invocation policy in a new way, by worshipping the Flying Spaghetti Monster.
On Solstice, Homer Resident Barrett Fletcher prepared to host the first meeting of the Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster at his home. He needs the religion to have regular meetings in the area so he can fill the borough’s requirement to give an invocation. For Pastafarians, this meeting will be like going to church. Along with setting out bowls of popcorn and chocolate, Fletcher cooked meatballs, white sauce, and of course, lots of spaghetti.
“Bubble bubble, toil and trouble!” he said over a pot of boiling water. “Oh wait that’s the wrong religion!”
It may sound like Fletcher believes religion is joke. But his feelings about it are often more cynical than that.
“I’m offended by the Christian religion and their idea of the narcissistic demanding God,” he said. He has a strong conviction that religion and politics should not mix.
“The invocation prior just sets my teeth on edge,” he said. “It just makes me angry and it is not a good way to do the borough's business.”
When a Satanist gave the prayer at a meeting about a year and a half ago, Fletcher thought it was pretty funny. The borough did not.
It inspired assembly members to write criteria restricting who can give the invocation. Only members of religious associations that have an established presence in the area or chaplains who work for local organizations, like the fire department, can get approval. The American Civil Liberties Union filed a lawsuit against this policy saying it violates free speech and equal protection under the law.
Fletcher wants to join in on the opposition and he knows just the way to do it. He’s ordered credentials from the Flying Spaghetti Monster and a rare Pastafarian Bible. At the meeting, he reads the monster’s version of the commandants called the “I really rather you didn’ts.”
“I'd really rather you didn't judge people for the way they look or how they dress or the way they talk or well just play nice OK…,” Fletcher said to the people gathered at the home.
On December 11, Fletcher applied to give a borough invocation next fall when the assembly holds its meeting in Homer. But the assembly denied his request four days later because Pastafarians haven’t established a community presence.
Setting out to change that, Fletcher arranged this gathering and posted it on Facebook. Eventually, a few members from the community showed up but for a while it was just his girlfriend and his daughter, Iris Fletcher.
“I'm here because I live here in this house and wanted dinner,” she said. “But I think that the whole invocation thing is rather silly.”
Others are taking it more seriously. Wayne Ogle is the president of the assembly and believes in the prayer.
"It’s been in place for 40 years. It is a tradition in the United States," he said. Why would we not be able to have an invocation?"
Other assembly members have attempted many times to repeal it and the rules around it. But Ogle said it only makes sense to have these perquisites in place.
“It's a reasonable requirement for people to have a basic qualification and have a standing in the community as a basis for which they can get up and give an invocation,” he said. “It's not meant to disqualify people or anything like that.”
Fletcher wasn’t truthful in his application when he claimed the Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster was meeting regularly. If that changed…
“I would say if he had a meeting then he could reapply and for all intents and purposes, he will probably be making an invocation,” Ogle said.
Fletcher will apply again and he may join the ACLU case if he is denied the opportunity for an invocation. The case will pick back up in February. But he said his ultimate goal is not to get his application approved:
“I really think it’s unfortunate that it has gone this far,” he said. “To be honest I don't want to give an invocation. I do not think that public meetings should invoke any gods at all. I would prefer that the invocation policy just be dropped so that the point would become moot.”
And in case that doesn’t happen:
“In the event that we continue to invoke gods at public meetings I intend to invoke the greatest God of them all, the creator of the universe, the great flying spaghetti monster,” he said.
But the spot he applied for has already been taken. On the Kenai Peninsula Borough Assembly website, it says a pastor from the Alaska Bible Institute will be giving the invocation for the Homer meeting next fall.