God and Kentucky’s Security

August 29th, 2009

In 2006, as a belated response to September 11, 2001, the State of Kentucky passed a statute that created a State Office of Homeland Security. Two amendments to that statute, worded by state Rep. Tom Riner, a Democrat who represents Louisville, KY, were then added. Rep. Riner is also a pastor of Christ is King Baptist Church in Louisville.

From the Miami Herald (emphasis mine):

One [amendment] required that training materials include information that the General Assembly stressed a “dependence on Almighty God as being vital to the security of the Commonwealth.”

The other [amendment] required a plaque to be placed at the entrance to the state’s Emergency Operations Center in Frankfort that said, in part, “the safety and security of the Commonwealth cannot be achieved apart from reliance upon Almighty God.”

For the past three years the State Office of Homeland Security met these requirements, but now the statute that created the State Homeland Security office has been struck down after ten Kentucky residents, joined by the American Atheists Inc., sued the state and won.

In the American Atheists blog they argue, as they did in the lawsuit, that:

It is clear that the purpose underlying the display of the plaque and the contents of Office of Homeland Security training materials is not to celebrate the historical reasons for our great nation’s survival in the face of terror and war. Its purpose is to declare publicly that the official position of the Commonwealth of Kentucky is that an Almighty God exists and that the function of that God is to protect us from our enemies. Consequently, a reading of the statute’s plain language makes that clear. Effectively, the General Assembly has created an official government position on God.

Franklin Circuit Judge Thomas Wingate agreed with the atheist group and said in an August 26 decision “that references to a dependence on ‘Almighty God’ in the law that created the Kentucky Office of Homeland Security are akin to establishing a religion, which the government is prohibited from doing in the U.S. and Kentucky constitutions.”

Judge Wingate’s 18-page ruling said in part:

The statute pronounces very plainly that current citizens of the Commonwealth cannot be safe, neither now, nor in the future, without the aid of Almighty God. Even assuming that most of this nation’s citizens have historically depended upon God, by choice, for their protection, this does not give the General Assembly the right to force citizens to do so now.

This is the very reason the Establishment Clause was created: to protect the minority from the oppression of the majority. The commonwealth’s history does not exclude God from the statutes, but it had never permitted the General Assembly to demand that its citizens depend on Almighty God.

Personally I believe that in most cases, atheists misuse the key phrase in the First Amendment to the Constitution that calls for what most people refer to as the separation of church and state (“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof”) — but in this case, it appears to me that they were exactly right.

It’s obvious that Rep. Tom Riner is one of those obnoxious Christians who refuses to respect a person’s right to not believe in a Supreme Being; instead, he insists that his belief must not only be respected but codified.

What is not obvious is why the Kentucky General Assembly went along with such a blatant attempt to force Riner’s concept of the power of belief in God on the entire state. Are there that many dunces in the Kentucky General Assembly?

Applause to Judge Thomas Wingate for a well thought out, appropriate decision.

(This article was also posted at My View from the Center.)

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3 Responses to “God and Kentucky’s Security”

  1. Tom |

    I agree with your conclusion. Freedom of religion must also mean freedom from religion. That freedom doesn’t exist when the law sets one belief above all others.

    According the the Miami Herald report, Riner is considering an appeal. He said, “They make the argument…that it has to do with a religion and promoting a religion. God is not a religion. God is God.”

    And Rep. Riner is brain-dead. The people of his district ought to think it over before they re-elect him.

  2. Brian |

    Agreed. At best, this was a silly law.

    Whether or not one is a Christian, one should not relish the idea of living under a theocracy. The Dark Ages in Europe were 1500 years of theocratic monarchies, and the ME is living under the same conditions today. Anyone with even a modest appreciation of history should understand the danger.

  3. Harvey |

    Tom, Brian,

    Thank you for your comments.

    I imagine many of the people in Riner’s district are also rethinking ever again electing a ‘man of the cloth’ to public office. Its really a shame but people like Riner probably make it difficult for all preachers/ministers/priests to get elected to public office — even those who understand that religion’s role in life is not to force itself on the masses but to prove itself worthy of their consideration.

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