Fairbanks leaders propose ending assembly meeting prayers

THE ASSOCIATED PRESS

FAIRBANKS — Some Fairbanks officials have proposed removing prayers from the beginning of borough assembly meetings.

Fairbanks North Star Borough Assembly members Shaun Tacke, Andrew Gray and Christopher Quist wrote a measure that would remove the nonsectarian invocation from the assembly’s meeting agendas, reported The Daily News-Miner. Their ordinance will be introduced during Thursday’s meeting.

The measure is designed to make sure the assembly reflects the community as a whole, Tacke said.

“There are some individuals who have religious beliefs and those who have zero and by having a strict policy of separation of church and state, it excludes no one and includes everyone,” Tacke told the newspaper Sunday.

The Fairbanks proposal follows changes to the Kenai Peninsula Borough’s invocation policy that sparked two lawsuits, one by the American Civil Liberties Union of Alaska and another by an assembly member.

After years of invocations given mostly by Christians, the Kenai Peninsula Borough Assembly last year opened invitations to the broader public. Kenai reversed course after a Satanic invocation.

The assembly then instituted a list of pre-approved religious groups, which provoked the court cases.

In Fairbanks, the invocation isn’t open to the public but is left up to the presiding officer. Tacke said this could become a problem depending on the attitude of the presiding officer.

Conservative Assemblyman Lance Roberts said he is opposed to getting rid of invocations, calling them a way to focus the meeting on creating good and balanced laws. He said he’d rather see the assembly move in the Kenai Peninsula Borough’s direction by inviting local figures to give invocations and possibly requiring pre-approval to weed out people who would want to make a “mockery” of the process.

“What I say when I’m doing prayer at public events is I’ll pray in my faith and you can pray in yours,” Roberts said. “Everybody is ultimately doing things their own way anyways, but it’s a common message that they’re thinking about.”

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