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Religious laws & church-state separation

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Church/state conflict in Kentucky law
creating Office of Homeland Security

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Kentucky includes God reference in state's Homeland Security law:

Two Kentucky Revised Statutes that were involved in the establishment of the Kentucky Office of Homeland Security contain separation of church and state concerns:

bullet2002: Legislation passed: KRS 39A.285 was the first statute. State Rep. Tom Riner (D-Louisville), a Baptist minister, added an amendment that stated:

"The safety and security of the Commonwealth cannot be achieved apart from reliance upon Almighty God as set forth in the public speeches and proclamations of American Presidents, including Abraham Lincoln's historic March 30, 1863, Presidential Proclamation urging Americans to pray and fast during one of the most dangerous hours in American history, and the text of President John F. Kennedy's November 22, 1963, national security speech which concluded: "For as was written long ago: 'Except the Lord keep the city, the watchman waketh but in vain'."

The watchman reference is an excerpt from the King James Version translation of Psalms 127:1 from the original Hebrew.
 

bullet2006: Legislation passed: KRS 39G.010 was the second statute. It describes duties of the Homeland Security executive director. Rep. Riner added an amendment requiring the executive director of the office to add an acknowledgement -- to:

"Publicize the findings of the General Assembly stressing the dependence on Almighty God as being vital to the security of the Commonwealth by including the provisions of KRS 39A.285(3) in its agency training and educational materials. The executive director shall also be responsible for prominently displaying a permanent plaque at the entrance to the state’s Emergency Operations Center stating the text of KRS 39A.285(3); 1,2,7

These laws are obviously in conflict with the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, and thus are unconstitutional. It has the state teaching not only that God exists, but that it is Yahweh mentioned in the Bible. During their oath of office, each of the legislators promised to follow the state and federal Constitutions. However, there were apparently sufficient legislators willing to violate their oath of office and pass the bill.

bullet2008-DEC-02: Lawsuit launched: Ten residents of the state joined with American Atheists Inc (AA) to launch a lawsuit against the state. AA is a national organization with a head office in Parsippany, NJ. Members include persons who have no belief in God, or who actively disbelieve in the existence of God.

Edwin F. Kagin, national legal director of AA believes that the law violates the state Constitution and the establishment clause of the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. He said:

"It is one of the most egregiously and breathtakingly unconstitutional actions by a state legislature that I've ever seen."

AA President Ed. Buckner said believes that this state law is unique in the U.S. by officially enlisting God's support to maintain homeland security:

"I'm not aware of any other state or commonwealth that is attempting to dump their clear responsibility for protecting their citizens onto God or any other mythological creature."

Rep. Riner said that it is very important to acknowledge God's role in protecting Kentucky and the rest of the U.S. He said:

"This is recognition that government alone cannot guarantee the perfect safety of the people of Kentucky. Government itself, apart from God, cannot close the security gap. The job is too big for government. ... There will always be this opposition to the acknowledgment of divine providence, but this is a foundational understanding of what America is." 3,1

bullet2008-DEC-06: Atheist columnist comments on lawsuit: Austin Cline, the Agnosticism/Atheism guide at About.com wrote a comment on the law's reference to God. He said:

"Would you put your health, life, and safety in the hands of people who in turn insist that safety and security cannot be achieved without relying on God? That really doesn't sound like the sort of people who can be relied upon, but it's all the people of the state of Kentucky have because that's the foundation of their state's Homeland Security office. It's probably the ultimate consequence of faith-based government programs and it's certainly the logical conclusion of any faith-based religion. It's also clearly unconstitutional, not that very many people in Kentucky's state government care. They have God on their side, remember? ..."

"The provisions here are religious on a number of levels. First, it requires official endorsement for belief not just in the existence of "a" god, but belief in the existence of a very particular god: the god of western monotheism. The references to 'Almighty God' and Psalm 127:1 prevent this from being an endorsement of a very general sort of deity that might theoretically include anything from deism to strict monotheism."

"Second, these provisions promote a particular relationship with this deity: people are told that they must trust and rely upon this deity for their security and safety needs. Although it's not made very explicit, the traditions of western religious monotheism teach that this reliance requires absolute submission to the will and desires of this god. It is absolutely necessary for people to have 'faith' in God and submit to God in order to receive the "blessings" of security and safety."

"Third, a civil servant is co-opted into performing religious duties. When church and state are separated, religious duties are performed by religious authorities within the churches. This would necessarily include promoting the idea that we must be dependent upon God for our security. Here, the state government of Kentucky is assuming the authority to provide people with religious instruction about what sort of relationship they should have with what sort of deity." 1

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bullet2009-AUG-26: Court declares law unconstitutional: John Cheves of the Lexington Herald-Leader wrote:

"Franklin Circuit Judge Thomas Wingate ruled that the law violated the First Amendment's protection against the establishment of a state religion. Homeland Security officials have been required for three years to credit "Almighty God" in their official reports and post a plaque with similar language at the state's Emergency Operations Center in Frankfort. 4

Judge Wingate ruled:

"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." 4

Edwin Kagin, the national legal director of American Atheists, said:

"We're delighted. It's what a judge should do. This law was unconstitutional on its face. I think we can all feel a little safer now. The real threats to our society come from within, not without, and that includes building a theocracy here in Kentucky." 5

bullet2009-SEP-05: State to appeal judge's decision: Shelley Johnson, spokesperson for the Kentucky attorney general's office said that state lawyers were preparing to appeal the case to the Kentucky Court of Appeals and to ask that enforcement of Judge Wingate's ruling be delayed until all appeals are exhausted. She said:

"We believe there is a clear distinction in the law between acknowledgment of religion, which has been permitted for years, and the establishment of religion, which is prohibited by the Constitution. The statute in question merely acknowledges religion and should have been upheld by the court."

Edwin Kagin said he wasn't surprised the state plans to appeal. He is planning to expedite the state's appeal by asking that it go directly to the Kentucky Supreme Court. He said:

"It's regrettable that they wish to spend that much taxpayer money to try to further an unconstitutional attempt to establish a religion. ... I would not be at all uncomfortable taking the facts of this case before the U.S. Supreme Court. I think the statute is so blatantly unconstitutional that any court would find it unconstitutional." 6

References used:

The following information sources were used to prepare and update the above essay. The hyperlinks are not necessarily still active today.

  1. Austin Cline, "Kentucky Homeland Security: God is Vital to State Security," About.com, 2008-DEC-06, at: http://atheism.about.com/

  2. "Court strikes down reference to God in state law," Courier-Journal, 2009-AUG-26, at: http://www.courier-journal.com/

  3. "Ky. atheists want God out of homeland security. State law requires office to acknowledge divine help in anti-terror efforts," Associated Press, 2008-DEC-03, at: http://www.msnbc.msn.com/

  4. John Cheves, "Judge: Kentucky can't force officials to credit 'Almighty God'," Lexington Herald-Leader, 2009-AUG-26, at: http://www.miamiherald.com/

  5. John Cheves, "State law's reference to 'Almighty God' struck down," Lexington Herald-Leader, 2009-AUG-27, at: http://www.kentucky.com/

  6. Roger Alford, "State fights to keep God in homeland security law," Associated Press, 2009-SEP-05, at: http://www.kentucky.com/

  7. The text of the two KRS can be accessed at: http://www.lrc.state.ky.us 

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Copyright © 2009 & 2010 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Original publishing date: 2009-SEP-05
Latest update: 2010-JAN-09
Author: B.A. Robinson

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