Prayer is a part of every assembly meeting in Wrangell. Someone in the community, most often of a Christian faith, begins the public meeting with an invocation. But the borough is looking to eliminate that, after a state superior court judge said the Kenai Peninsula Borough’s prayer policy was unconstitutional.
Borough staff brought a measure to the assembly to remove that line item from all meetings moving forward.
Many community members spoke in favor of keeping prayer in city hall chambers.
“If people don’t believe in prayer what is the threat and if you do believe in prayer only god knows what great things can happen,” Nettie Covalt says.
Rudy Briskar, Clay Hammer, Don McConachie, and Heidi and Mark Armstrong. McConachie, a former assembly member and mayor, says the city implemented the invocation in the late 90’s.
Jim Leslie was the one voice in favor of removing the prayer.
“The problem with that is we don’t all pray to the same entity, idea, deity, or philosophical belief,” Leslie says. “I think in respect for religions or, non religion, other than the Christian faith, it probably serves us all well if we pray privately.”
The borough recommended this change after a state superior court judge ruled Kenai’s prayer policy was unconstitutional.
Some Kenai residents pushed against the prayer policy in their own unique way. Someone came to say a prayer ending with the salute “Hail Satan”. The Borough didn’t like that antic, and wrote a policy saying only congregations could say their prayer. Then, another resident started his own congregation in honor of the Flying Spaghetti Monster.
The American Civil Liberties Union of Alaska, with the help of one of those locals, sued the Kenai Borough.
And the Wrangell Borough does not want to be the next.
“I really appreciate it and I feel it puts me into the proper mood for doing this job,” says Assembly Member Patti Gilbert. “I think there is a workaround that the city doesn’t have to sanction but can condone.”
She says community members could always say a prayer during public comment.
The four present assembly members voted unanimously to remove the invocation. The ordinance will have one more reading before approval on November 27th.