A small town in Alaska voted earlier this month to approve an ordinance that would allow council meetings to begin with prayers of invocation. According to the latest decision made by Ketchikan Gateway Borough Assembly, Satanists and atheists would be able to deliver invocations just like any other religious group. On October 6, the city council referred to the 2014 United States Supreme Court decision that allowed volunteer chaplains to deliver prayer invocations before council meetings. They went on to charge a local clergy group, the Ketchikan Ministerial Association, with supplying pastors to pray at meetings.
“The Ketchikan Ministerial Association, a non-denominational group of Ketchikan clergy, is in favor of this ordinance and has offered the support of its members to provide the invocation on a rotating basis,” the ordinance read. “If Ordinance 1740 is approved by the Assembly, the Clerk’s Office could coordinate with the KMA, and local clergy, for a member to provide the invocation at the beginning of each Assembly meeting.”
However, the Ketchikan Ministerial Association is an exclusively Christian group that professes core values, including their belief in Christ and an affirmation of the notion that Jesus is the only begotten son of God. Council member Bill Rotecki threw light on this fact and proposed an amendment, which would make the ordinance more inclusive of other religions and put Satanists and atheists on the list of individuals who can offer invocations before council meetings. His colleague, Glen Thompson, argued, however, that only some groups, and not all, should be allowed the privilege to deliver invocations.
“Atheism means not god and that completely guts the whole intention of this ordinance and I think it’s inappropriate,” Thompson said. “I don’t have a problem with having an inclusive denominations, be they Hindu, Islam, Bahai faith, Christian, what have you. I will draw the line on Satanists or atheists.”
The ordinance was passed with a majority vote of 4-3 but the amendment did not receive the same support and only Rotecki voted in favour of it. However, once local media reported details of the meeting that day, Thompson learned that the law prohibits the exclusion of any group from delivering prayer invocations before council meetings. Thereafter, Thompson took less than 24 hours to change his stance on the matter, saying the right to deliver invocations should in fact be open to all citizens.
“I really do believe that if we move forward with this type of invocation, we have to be inclusive,” he said. “We can’t exclude atheists, we can’t exclude paganists. I don’t anticipate there’s going to be very many of them wanting to come and present a prayer to us, but if we’re going to have this type of a ceremony, it should be inclusive and anyone who wants to sign up should have the right to do so. … I’m a Constitutionist, and we have to have access to our government, we have to have inclusion. I’m OK with it.”
Photo Credits: Wikimedia