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Assembly Considers Moment of Silence After Satanic Prayer, Protest, Counterprotest

Photo by Daysha Eaton/KBBI

Tonight, Kenai Peninsula Borough Assembly Vice President Brent Johnson plans to introduce an ordinance that would replace the invocation, or prayer said at the beginning of meetings, with a moment of silence. Earlier this month, an invocation by a member of the Satanic Temple was offered before the assembly. The prayer sparked a protest, and a counterprotest.

Rumors had been circulating online that there would be an exorcism performed on the Kenai Peninsula Borough Assembly building, but that did not happen. At least not right away. Instead, in the steady rain, in front of the Soldotna Planned Parenthood, two groups gathered. On one side, Catholic protestors carrying rosaries and a life-sized wooden cross said a prayer.

On the other side, a group of women held signs reading, ‘my body my choice’ and ‘reproductive health is not a sin’, and they chanted this:

“Keep your rosaries off my ovaries  ... keep your rosaries off my ovaries,” said counterprotesters.

Credit Photo by Daysha Eaton/KBBI
Some children took part in the Aug. 23 protest with their parents.

The protest was sparked by something that happened down the street inside Borough Assembly Chambers a couple weeks back. That’s when 27-year old Kenai Peninsula College student Iris Fontana invoked the power of Satan.

“Let us stand now, unbowed and unfettered by arcane doctrines born fearful minds in darkened times,” said Fontana.

It ended like this: “It is done. Hail Satan,” said Fontana.

Several months ago, Kenai Peninsula Borough Assembly President, Blaine Gillman, introduced an ordinance that would have done away with the invocation. But he withdrew it under pressure from local Christian leaders who wanted the prayer to continue.

Fast forward to August 17, when the religious protestors combined issues they see as community problems.

Outside Planned Parenthood, spokesperson for the Catholic group, Toby Burk says he is there to address what he calls, two ‘evils’ going on in the community:

“First and foremost the evil of abortion, the destruction of innocent life, for one. We are out here in front of Planned Parenthood because they make all or most of the local referrals to the abortionist. And two, you may have heard about the invocation at the Borough building last week. So this is like, we are going to start praying here and we are going to eventually process over to the Borough building.” said Burk.

Praying is the catholic group’s way of fighting back, he says.

Credit Photo by Daysha Eaton/KBBI
Reporter Elizabeth Earl with the Peninsula Clarion Newspaper interviews counterprotesters in front of the Soldotna Planned Parenthood on Aug. 17.

On the other side of the Planned Parenthood issue were counterprotesters, including Michele Vasquez. She says that she supports the clinic which provides many important services, besides abortion.

“It’s actually the healthcare provider for millions of low-income women across the country. They provide pap smears; they provide cancer screenings, breast exams, and prostate exams for men. It is just so crucial that we have that. Only 3 percent of their services are abortion. So, I just find it reprehensible that these people would want to see such a great organization just disappear,” said Vasquez.

This summer, the Assembly heard repeated public testimony from residents who said that prayer at a public meeting was inappropriate – and also that the invocation, as practiced, seemed exclusionary to non-Judeo-Christian faiths. Local religious leaders testified in support of keeping the invocation. Now a moment of silence is under consideration as an alternative.

The Catholic protestors walk toward the Borough building and right before they get to it the counterprotesters link arms to form a symbolic human wall.

“Separation of church and state, we are the wall! Separation of church and state, we are the wall!” said counterprotesters.

Eventually everyone arrives in front of the borough building.

Credit Photo by Daysha Eaton/KBBI
Protesters in front of the Kenai Peninsula Borough building in Soldotna.

Iris Fontana is also at the protest – the woman who said the prayer that sparked so much controversy. Fontana says she supports Planned Parenthood and free speech.

“The invocation that I used was written by the spokesman for the Satanic Temple and so I could have left ‘hail Satan’ off but why? There should not be a reason to have to rein myself in. It is free speech. Everyone has free speech. You know, I should not have to hide,” said Fontana.

Standing with Fontana is a retired school teacher and self-described Christian.

“I am Judith Jenkinson, the grandmother of this nasty rebel I love so much and I’m here because I support her. She’s right,” said Jenkinson.

Jenkinson says she’s proud that her granddaughter is fighting for separation of church and state in the local government.

“It is 2016, people ought to have rights. This whole protest is so dark ages, it just scares me to death,” said Jenkinson.

Fontana says she’s pleased that the Assembly is now considering doing away with the invocation and instituting in its place a moment of silence.

“That would be perfect. I think that’s reasonable,” said Fontana.

The Kenai Peninsula Borough Assembly is scheduled to introduce the new ordinance at their Tuesday, August 23 meeting.

Daysha Eaton holds a B.A. from Evergreen State College, and a M.A. from the University of Southern California. Daysha got her start in radio at Seattle public radio stations, KPLU and KUOW. Before coming to KBBI, she was the News Director at KYUK in Bethel. She has also worked as the Southcentral Reporter for KSKA in Anchorage.