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Anchorage, AK – Wednesday, the American Civil Liberties Union of Alaska (ACLU) announced it has prevailed in its suit against the Kenai Peninsula Borough on behalf of Lance Hunt, Iris Fontana, and Elise Boyer, three Kenai residents who stood up to challenge the Borough Assembly’s unconstitutional restrictions on who may offer invocations at the beginning of their public meetings.
Lance Hunt and Iris Fontana each gave separate invocations in the summer of 2016, when the Borough Assembly allowed invocations on a first-come, first-serve basis. Lance, an atheist, invoked the Assembly members’ common humanity to solemnize its July 26 meeting: he encouraged the Assembly members to overlook differences and to have empathy for one’s neighbors. Iris, who read an invocation prepared by The Satanic Temple at the Assembly’s August 9 meeting, encouraged the Assembly members to use innate, human reason to guide their deliberations.
In direct response to Lance and Iris’s invocations—and to prevent them and other community members from giving similar invocations in the future—the Assembly adopted unconstitutional and discriminatory restrictions to limit the honor of publicly solemnizing Assembly meetings to members of religious associations that are established and regularly meet in the Kenai Peninsula Borough.
Elise Boyer is of Jewish faith and like all others of that faith were excluded from giving invocations because there is no established Jewish temple within the Kenai Peninsula Borough where they can worship.
In the Superior Court decision, Judge Andrew Peterson declared the invocation policy a violation of the Alaska Constitution’s Establishment Clause. He noted the Kenai Peninsula Borough invocation policy “stemmed from intolerance” because it was designed to “exclude minority faiths or beliefs.”
“We are grateful Judge Peterson agreed with our position that in America, the government cannot declare 1st class faiths and 2nd class faiths,” said ACLU of Alaska Executive Director Joshua A. Decker. “The ACLU of Alaska is proud to stand up for the freedom to peacefully worship for all faiths free from governmental judgement.”
This lawsuit came after the ACLU of Alaska spent months asking and encouraging the Borough to abandon its unconstitutional restrictions. “We tried dutifully to avoid this lawsuit,” Decker continued. “We sent two letters, we traveled to three Assembly meetings, and we clearly explained that the Borough could not have this policy to exclude people like our clients from offering invocations,” Decker continued. “But, in spite of Borough Mayor Navarre’s veto, the Assembly overrode it and doubled-down on this unconstitutional discrimination.”