The Kenai Peninsula Borough Assembly thought it put controversy about invocations to rest. But there seems to be no end in sight to debate about starting meetings with a prayer.
The Aug. 9 Kenai Peninsula Borough Assembly meeting was not the first time the invocation has caused controversy, but it is the first time it’s ended with a call to, “Hail Satan.”
Iris Fontana is a 27-year-old Kenai Peninsula College student, and a member of the Satanic Temple.
“Let us stand now, unbowed and unfettered by arcane doctrines born of fearful minds in darkened times. Let us embrace the Luciferian impulse to eat of the Tree of Knowledge and dissipate our blissful and comforting delusions of old. Let us demand that individuals be judged for their concrete actions, not their fealty to arbitrary social norms and illusory categorizations. Let us reason our solutions with agnosticism in all things, holding fast only to that which is demonstrably true. Let us stand firm against any and all arbitrary authority that threatens the personal sovereignty of one or all. That which will not bend must break, and that which can be destroyed by truth should never be spared its demise. It is done. Hail Satan,” Fontana said.
The assembly has gotten complaints about starting governmental meetings with a prayer, particularly since Judeo-Christian faiths are pretty much the only ones represented. On June 12, the assembly considered doing away with the invocation altogether, or putting some guidelines on what could be said and who could say it. After a flood of vehement public testimony opposing those approaches, the assembly decided to keep the practice but be more inclusive to others wishing to participate.
Fontana said her invocation is a call for reason, rather than a prayer in the usual sense. She said the Satanic Temple considers itself a religion but does not believe in any supernatural or spiritual powers. She said Satan is a metaphor for wisdom, rather than a belief in a demonic deity or the pursuit of evil.
“Satan is a symbol, because in Christianity, Satan was kicked out of heaven because he gave Eve the apple from the tree of wisdom. And we really just want to embody speaking out against things that are kind of indoctrinated into our culture, and we want to embody giving knowledge to people,” Fontana said.
Fontana contacted the borough about giving an invocation because she doesn’t think it should just be Christian prayers starting the meeting.
“I would be happy with either allowing anyone to do it and not having like a process for them to have to do it, or everyone go through the same process to do it. And I’d also be happy if they did away with it because I really, really believe in the separation between church and state,” Fontana said.
She said she sent her request in April, and it took until the end of May — and two more inquiries on her part — to hear back that she would be able to speak at the Aug. 9 meeting. She said she was nervous, preparing herself for someone to challenge her while speaking. But she was pleasantly surprised.
“I actually was very impressed at their reaction,” Fontana said. “That night, at least, I don’t know how they reacted later, when it processed. But they all stood and they all either bowed their heads or they looked straight at me. They didn’t sit down, they didn’t walk out. I was very impressed by their reactions.”
Assembly member Brent Johnson walked away from his seat before the invocation and returned immediately after, and a borough staff member sat down while Fontana spoke. During assembly comments, Dale Bagley said Fontana’s invocation, and one given at the previous meeting by Lance Hunt, who identified as an atheist, were political statements.
“I find it a little ironic that the — I hate to call it a prayer — invocation from the atheist wasn’t really about doing good and making good decisions. It was a political statement,” Bagley said. “And he was here tonight filming the lady that gave the invocation. And obviously she was doing it for a political statement. It’s kind of irritating that that’s what we got there. And I think that if a pastor had been here doing the same type of political statements on something, we wouldn’t be letting them back here.”
Assembly President Blaine Gilman spoke in support of being inclusive in the invocation, even if what’s said isn’t to everyone’s liking.
“This is what living in democracy is,” Gilman said. “It’s important for the right of freedom of religion. It’s important for freedom of speech. It’s important we protect our liberties, protect our Constitution. And as a body that means that, sometimes, we have to listen to things which we may not agree with.”
Anyone wanting to give an invocation can sign up to do so by contacting the borough clerk’s office. It’s scheduled on a first-come, first-served basis — for now, anyway. Assembly member Johnson is drafting an ordinance that would change the invocation to a moment of silence.