Kenai Borough Assembly overrides mayor’s veto of invocation policy resolution

The Kenai Peninsula Borough Assembly has voted to override Mayor Mike Navarre’s veto of the Assembly’s new invocation policy resolution.

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Joshua Decker is the Executive Director of The American Civil Liberties Union of Alaska.

Decker said he is disappointed in the Assembly’s action.

“As we wrote in our letter to the Assembly last week, we think this resolution is unconstitutional. We had hoped that they would do the right thing and go back to the way things used to be in terms of letting anyone who wanted to give invocations to sign up first-come-first-serve. Unfortunately, they chose to double down on a policy that we think is unconstitutional,” Decker said.

The veto and the subsequent override came at Tuesday evening’s regular Assembly meeting in Soldotna. The ACLU sent an attorney who reiterated their concern during the public testimony period.

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

Decker said the ACLU wrote to the Kenai Peninsula Borough Assembly on Oct. 20, warning them their new invocation policy was unconstitutional.

“In our letter to the Borough Assembly we had asked them to let us know what they were going to do and to fix the unconstitutional policy by the end of November, by Monday, November 28. They have one more Assembly meeting before the end of November and so we hope that they are going to carefully consider our concerns and do the right thing. If not, if going to court is what the constitution requires, then that’s what the constitution requires,” Decker said.

Decker said the policy violates the constitutional rights of equal protection and religious freedom.

ACLU officials told the Assembly they had two options: either return to the old policy of allowing anyone to give the invocation or eliminate invocations completely.

The Assembly overrode the veto in a 6 to 3 vote. Assembly members Cooper, Willy Dunne and Brandii Holmdahl were the ‘no’ votes.

The next Kenai Peninsula Borough Assembly meeting is scheduled for November 25.

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Daysha Eaton is a contributor with the Alaska Public Radio Network. Daysha Eaton holds a B.A. from Evergreen State College, and a M.A. from the University of Southern California. Daysha got her start in radio at Seattle public radio stations, KPLU and KUOW. Before coming to KBBI, she was the News Director at KYUK in Bethel. She has also worked as the Southcentral Reporter for KSKA in Anchorage. Daysha's work has appeared on NPR's "Morning Edition" and "All Things Considered", PRI's "The World" and "National Native News". She's happy to take assignments, and to get news tips, which are best sent via email. Daysha became a journalist because she believes in the power of storytelling. Stories connect us and they help us make sense of our world. They shed light on injustice and they comfort us in troubled times. She got into public broadcasting because it seems to fulfill the intention of the 4th Estate and to most effectively apply the freedom of the press granted to us through the Constitution. She feels that public radio has a special way of moving people emotionally through sound, taking them to remote places, introducing them to people they would not otherwise meet and compelling them to think about issues they might ordinarily overlook.

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