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KENAI (AP) — Attorneys presented arguments in Alaska Superior Court on the legality of a Kenai Peninsula Borough policy that allows only members of established religious groups to pray at the beginning of assembly meetings.
Attorneys for the borough defended the policy before Judge Andrew Peterson in Anchorage on Wednesday, saying the invocations are open to any religion as long as it’s an association with a local presence, the Peninsula Clarion reported.
The American Civil Liberties Union of Alaska filed a lawsuit in late 2016 after the borough adopted the policy, which allows invocations from members of religious organizations that have established local presences and regular meetings. Chaplains serving organizations such as fire departments and hospitals can also give invocations.
The ACLU claims the borough’s policy violates freedom of speech, freedom of association and the establishment clause, and it fails to provide equal protection under the law.
In order for the policy to remain in place, it has to clear those four hurdles, said ACLU attorney Eric Glatt, who represents three plaintiffs from the Kenai Peninsula in the suit.
The borough maintains that the invocations are a form government speech. People who give the invocations are designated as agents of the government and are not speaking publicly as private individuals, the borough claims.
The policy is open to any religion that’s part of an association, said borough attorney Kevin Clarkson, noting that the policy does not define what an association is.
“The borough doesn’t have to go seek anybody out, but they’ve created the opportunity by which any association can take the avenue to give the invocation,” Clarkson said.
Glatt said the policy effectively blocks people who are not part of an association with enough members locally to formally establish itself.