Hunt, Lance vs. Kenai Peninsula Borough AP

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KenaiPeninsulaInvocation2019.png
Kenai Peninsula Borough Assembly meeting invocation, Tuesday, June 18, 2019, by Iris Fontana.
Hunt, Lance vs. Kenai Peninsula Borough AP
Filing Date 12/14/2016
Original Jurisdiction Third Judicial District Superior Court - Anchorage
Plaintiff Lance Hunt
Defendant Kenai Peninsula Borough
Intervenor N/A
State Alaska
Case# 3AN-16-10652CI
Original Result Summary Judgment for Plaintiff (success)
First Appeal N/A
Second Appeal N/A
Final Result Success
KenaiPeninsulaBoroughLogo.png
Hunt v. Kenai Peninsula Borough
Filing Date 01/9/2017
Original Jurisdiction United States District Court - District of Alaska
Plaintiff Lance Hunt, Elise boyer, and Iris Fontana
Defendant Kenai Peninsula Borough
Intervenor N/A
State Alaska
Case# 3:17-cv-00007
Original Result Returned to State Superior Court (neutral)
First Appeal N/A
Second Appeal N/A
Final Result N/A

Hunt, Lance vs. Kenai Peninsula Borough AP was a civil lawsuit in state and federal court involving a member of The Satanic Temple who gave an invocation.

The ACLU of Alaska represented Lance Hunt, an atheist; Iris Fontana, a TST member; and Elise Boyer, a Jewish person.

Discriminatory Resolution

After Hunt and Fontana gave invocations in July and August 2016, respectively, the Kenai Peninsula Borough passed a resolution in October of that year changing the standards for who could give invocations, requiring speakers to be on an approved Associations List while submitting an application by

  1. an authorized leader
  2. of an association
  3. that is religious,
  4. that has an established presence in the Borough,
  5. and that regularly meets
  6. for the primary purpose of sharing a religious perspective.

Under the Resolution, questions about the “authenticity” of a religious association were to be resolved by considering the criteria used by the Internal Revenue Service to determine whether such an organization would “legitimately” qualify for IRS tax-exempt status. In November 2016, Hunt's request was denied, as was Fontana who had said that “TST has not sought tax-exempt status, because we believe that no church should be tax exempt.”

(Reason Alliance Ltd. was extant and a tax-exempt entity, but not as a church; The Satanic Temple Inc. would not be registered till Novemember 2017 and not achieve IRS recognition till February 2019.)

In December 2016, Boyer also sought to give an invocation but was denied, according to the Borough, because she was not affiliated with an association and did not indicate that she was a chaplain. [1]

Shortly thereafter, the three plaintiffs filed suit in Alaska State Superior Court, represented by the ACLU of Alaska. The case was initially moved to federal court in January 2017 before returning to state court and where Justice Andrew Peterson granted the ACLU's summary judgment for the plaintiffs in October 2018 and the Borough did not appeal.

The Kenai Penisula Borough Assembly changed their policy to: "Any invocation that may be offered at the beginning of the assembly meeting shall be a voluntary offering of a private person, to and for the benefit of the assembly. No member of the community is required to attend or participate in the invocation."[2]

Second TST member invocation

On June 18, 2019, Fontana would go on to give another invocation, leading to a walk out:[3] [4]

Let us be present in this moment, clear our minds and be free of outdated propaganda and regulations that were created by historical people who were afraid of the unknown.
Let us embrace the impulse to eat of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil so that we may let go of comforting delusions and see the truth in the world.
Let us demand that humans be judged for their actions, not their loyalty to useless social norms, labels, and categories.
Let us stand firm against all authority that tries to threaten the unalienable rights of all humans.
Let us cast aside our differences to use reason, logic, science and compassion to create solutions for the greater good of our community.
It is done! Hail satan

ACLU press release

Anchorage, AK – Today (Oct. 10, 2018), the American Civil Liberties Union of Alaska (ACLU) announced it has prevailed in our suit against the Kenai Peninsula Borough on behalf of Lance Hunt, Iris Fontana, and Elise Boyer, three Kenai residents who stood up to challenge the Borough Assembly’s unconstitutional restrictions on who may offer invocations at the beginning of their public meetings.
Lance Hunt and Iris Fontana each gave separate invocations in the summer of 2016, when the Borough Assembly allowed invocations on a first-come, first-serve basis. Lance, an atheist, invoked the Assembly members’ common humanity to solemnize its July 26 meeting: he encouraged the Assembly members to overlook differences and to have empathy for one’s neighbors. Iris, who read an invocation prepared by The Satanic Temple at the Assembly’s August 9 meeting, encouraged the Assembly members to use innate, human reason to guide their deliberations.
In direct response to Lance and Iris’s invocations—and to prevent them and other community members from giving similar invocations in the future—the Assembly adopted unconstitutional and discriminatory restrictions to limit the honor of publicly solemnizing Assembly meetings to members of religious associations that are established and regularly meet in the Kenai Peninsula Borough.
Elise Boyer is of Jewish faith and like all others of that faith were excluded from giving invocations because there is no established Jewish temple within the Kenai Peninsula Borough where they can worship.
In the Superior Court decision, Judge Andrew Peterson declared the invocation policy a violation of the Alaska Constitution’s Establishment Clause. He noted the Kenai Peninsula Borough invocation policy “stemmed from intolerance” because it was designed to “exclude minority faiths or beliefs.”
“We are grateful Judge Peterson agreed with our position that in America, the government cannot declare 1st class faiths and 2nd class faiths,” said ACLU of Alaska Executive Director Joshua A. Decker. “The ACLU of Alaska is proud to stand up for the freedom to peacefully worship for all faiths free from governmental judgement.”
This lawsuit came after the ACLU of Alaska spent months asking and encouraging the Borough to abandon its unconstitutional restrictions. “We tried dutifully to avoid this lawsuit,” Decker continued. “We sent two letters, we traveled to three Assembly meetings, and we clearly explained that the Borough could not have this policy to exclude people like our clients from offering invocations,” Decker continued. “But, in spite of Borough Mayor Navarre’s veto, the Assembly overrode it and doubled-down on this unconstitutional discrimination.”[5]

References

  1. Document #13 - Plantiff's Amended Complaint in U.S. federal district court.
  2. PeninsulaClarion.com, Satanic Temple invocation prompts protest, walkouts at assembly meeting, June 18, 2019
  3. SacBee.com, Satanic prayer opens public meeting in Alaska. Next up? The Flying Spaghetti Monster, June 18, 2018
  4. Kenai Peninsula Borough meeting minutes, Audio/Video of invocation and walkout
  5. ACLu of Alaska press release, ACLU of Alaska wins suit over Kenai Peninsula Borough’s discriminatory invocation policy, Oct. 10, 2018