An “interesting cast of characters” from “what some may consider fringe religions” – including the Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster and the Satanic Temple – are scheduled to speak before local government meetings in Alaska’s Kenai Peninsula this year, an assemblyman says.
The diverse lineup is the latest twist in a long-running dispute in the area over whom is allowed to say invocations before its assembly meetings.
“It’s still somewhat a controversial issue and it’s going to be interesting to see how people react to what some may consider fringe religions — the Wiccan, atheist, Flying Spaghetti Monster, the Satanic Temple,” Willy Dunne, an assembly member, told the Anchorage Daily News. “They’re all lined up to give invocations. I don’t know if people will find that acceptable or not. We’ll have to find out and see.”
The invocations, in accordance with borough code, are “supposed to be some type of encouraging word” for the elected officials before they go about conducting their business, Assembly President Wayne Ogle added.
The process of determining who gets to speak to the assembly though has been mired in controversy in recent years.
Historically, the Anchorage Daily News says, the assembly has chosen Christian pastors to fill the roles. But in 2016, officials opened up the process and changed their rules to allow anyone to sign up on a first-come, first-serve basis.
Then in August of that year, a woman who spoke to the assembly ended her invocation with the words “Hail Satan,” sparking debate amongst officials over whether they should go back to the way things used to be.
The assembly eventually settled on a policy that permitted only approved religious groups to give the speeches. But the Alaska Superior Court in October 2018, spurred on by a lawsuit filed by the American Civil Liberties Union of Alaska, ruled that the policy was unconstitutional.
Now the current rule is that any resident can submit a written request to speak to the chamber, the Anchorage Daily News reports.
Barrett Fletcher, from Homer, told the newspaper that he is the one who signed up to speak as a “Pastafarian,” otherwise called a follower of the Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster.
The Church is described by the Associated Press as a "satirical pseudo-deity" which originated in the U.S. in 2005 "as a protest against religion encroaching into public schools.
“It’s as real as any other religion that exists on the planet,” Fletcher said.