By Jack Jenkins
A small Alaska town has become the latest flashpoint in America’s ongoing debate over the definition of religious freedom, with a city assembly struggling to discern who gets to be included in efforts to expand “religious liberty.”
On Monday, the Ketchikan Gateway Borough Assembly of Ketchikan, Alaska, voted to approve an ordinance that allows their meetings to begin with prayers of invocation. The city justified the move by referring to the 2014 U.S. Supreme Court decision Greece v. Galloway, which allowed volunteer chaplains to open legislative sessions with a prayer. They then cited the support of a local clergy group, charging the Ketchikan Ministerial Association with helping supply 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.”
But while the Ketchikan Ministerial Association is non-denominational, it is an explicitly Christian group, professing “core values” that include a belief in the “Deity of the Lord Jesus Christ, and that He is the only begotten Son of God.” Council member Bill Rotecki drew attention to this fact, and proposed an amendment that would make the ordinance more inclusive to other religions and add atheists to the list of people who could offer invocations.
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