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Borough Assembly Invocation Policy Is Unconstitutional, Says ACLU

Image courtesy of the ACLU of Alaska

The American Civil Liberties Union of Alaska wrote to the Kenai Peninsula Borough Assembly on Oct. 20, warning them their new invocation policy is unconstitutional.

The policy, approved on Oct. 11, restricts who is allowed to give the invocation, or prayer, that begins each Borough Assembly meeting.

Joshua Decker is the Executive Director of the ACLU of Alaska. He says people who wish to give the invocation must now pass an unconstitutional “five-part religion test.”

“What the Kenai Peninsula Borough Assembly did is set part five discrete requirements that someone has to pass before they’re allowed to give an invocation. They have to be an appointed representative of a religious association that has an established presence in the Kenai Peninsula Borough, that regularly meets for the primary purpose of sharing a religious perspective,” said Decker.

Decker says these requirements clearly prevent some groups of people from giving the meeting invocation.

“This discriminates against people who for example may be members of a church, but their church meets outside Kenai [Peninsula Borough]. It discriminates against people who may belong to a church but it does not regularly meet. And it discriminates against people who may not belong to a church,” he said.

According to the ACLU of Alaska, the new Borough Assembly invocation policy violates constitutional rights of equal protection and religious freedom.

Decker says the Assembly has two options: either return to the old policy of allowing anyone to give the invocation or eliminate invocations completely.

“It’s our hope that we do not have to sue, but if that’s what it takes to uphold the Constitution, we’re not going to rule anything out. We hope though that the Borough Assembly is going to carefully consider the concerns we raised in our letter and that they’re going to do the right thing,” said Decker.

Due to the legal nature of the issue, Borough Assembly members are not allowed to comment unless the matter is officially raised at an Assembly meeting.

The next meeting of the Kenai Peninsula Borough Assembly is scheduled for Oct. 25.