It is one thing to trust in God, but quite another to be ordered to rely on protection from above during national emergencies, a judge has ruled.
Franklin Circuit Judge Thomas Wingate said in Wednesday's decision that references to a dependence on "Almighty God" in the law that created the Kentucky Office of Homeland Security is akin to establishing a religion, which the government is prohibited from doing in the U.S. and Kentucky constitutions. Ten Kentucky residents and a national atheist group sued to have the reference stricken.
"It is breathtakingly unconstitutional," said Edwin Kagin, national legal director for American Atheists Inc. in Union, "and Judge Wingate goes to great detail as to why it is."
The judge wrote in the 18-page ruling: "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."
The language in the 2006 legislation had been inserted by state Rep. Tom Riner, D-Louisville, a pastor of Christ is King Baptist Church in Louisville.
'God is not a religion'
Riner said he planned to ask Kentucky Attorney General Jack Conway to seek a reconsideration of the order. Conway has 10 days to do that, and 30 days to appeal.
"They make the argument ... that it has to do with a religion," Riner said, "and promoting a religion. God is not a religion. God is God."
A spokeswoman for Kentucky Attorney General Jack Conway says he has not yet decided whether to appeal.
The state Office of Homeland Security was created in response to the Sept. 11 attacks, Wingate said in the order, and two amendments added to the statute creating the office were at issue.
One 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 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."
Wingate noted in the order that there are 32 references to God or Almighty God in state statutes and the state constitution.
But the reference in the homeland security law "places an affirmative duty to rely on Almighty God for the protection of the Commonwealth," Wingate wrote. "This makes the statute exceptional among thousands of others, and therefore, unconstitutional."
Riner said he was not willing to consider rewording the phrases to make them pass muster.
"This is no small matter, the understanding that God is real," he said. "There are real benefits to acknowledging Him. There was not a single founder or framer of the Constitution who didn't believe that."