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Kenai might scrap invocations before meetings

KENAI (AP) — An Alaska borough will consider scrapping invocations before meetings as a case challenging the policy moves through court.

The third such ordinance in a year is expected to be introduced Tuesday at a meeting of the Kenai Peninsula Borough Assembly, the Peninsula Clarion reported.

Policy currently allows invocations from members of religious organizations that have established local presences and regular meetings. Chaplains serving organizations like fire departments and hospitals can also give invocations.

Assembly member Willy Dunne is sponsoring the ordinance to nix the invocation altogether.

"Many residents of the borough have requested that invocations at assembly meetings be eliminated," he wrote in a memo. "Ending the practice of invocations will save the borough taxpayers money and reduce divisiveness in our community. It is expected that assembly members can find ways to have their spiritual needs met outside of public meetings. I’ve heard overwhelmingly that people would rather not have an invocation or have a moment of silence than to have a religious prayer."

The American Civil Liberties Union of Alaska is challenging the current policy in federal court on behalf of two residents who say the rules are discriminatory.

Dunne said he decided to reintroduce the measure to see if the new assembly approves it this time.

"I know that it had been offered for introduction in the past, but because we will have two new members on Feb. 14, we have a new makeup of the assembly to see if the new members are open to introducing it," he said. "I think instead of debating the ordinance on its merit, what I would hope would be that we can debate whether or not the public has the right have a public hearing on the ordinance."