Atheists Challenge Kentucky Law Ordering Homeland Security to Publicize “Dependence on Almighty God”
If a state law requires the government to publicize the state’s “dependence on Almighty God” in training and educational materials and on a plaque at an emergency operations center, does that constitute an unconstitutional establishment of religion or mere lip service to vague God-talk?
That is the question presented to the U.S. Supreme Court by a group of Kentuckians represented by American Atheists, who are asking the Court to review a Kentucky statute that credits “Almighty God” with state security. The law states that the Kentucky Legislature has decided that, “The safety and security of the Commonwealth cannot be achieved apart from reliance upon Almighty God.”
The statute further requires the state Office of Homeland Security (OHS) to “publicize the findings of the General Assembly stressing the dependence on Almighty God” by including the quote above in agency training and educational materials and on a plaque at Kentucky’s Emergency Operations Center. Anyone who violates the statute is guilty of a misdemeanor punishable by up to one year in jail.
Although state Judge Thomas Wingate ruled that the statute had impermissibly “created an official government position on God,” he was overruled (2-1) by a three-judge panel of the Kentucky Court of Appeals, whose majority held the law “merely pays lip service to a commonly held belief in the puissance (power) of God.” The Kentucky Supreme Court refused to step in.
In its petition to the Supreme Court, the atheists argue that the statute “should not be swept under the ceremonial deism rug, especially as it ostracizes atheists from politics…impl[ying] that atheists are dangerous to the post-9/11 security of the Commonwealth,” referring to a legal doctrine that passing references to God in official statements do not amount to religious endorsements. The petition also describes the law as part of a larger “misguided push to improperly mix religion and government” on the part of Kentucky lawmakers.
Filed November 13, the petition for review requires a response from the state of Kentucky by December 17, 2012. The Supreme Court is considered unlikely to rule on whether it will take the case before the new year.
To Learn More:
Atheists Ask U.S. Supreme Court to Hear Case on “God” in Kentucky Law (by Peter Smith, Louisville Courier-Journal)
Court Upholds Kentucky Law Requiring Reliance on “Almighty God” for Security (by John Cheves, Lexington Herald-Leader)
American Atheists, Inc. v. Kentucky Office of Homeland Security (cert. petition to the Supreme Court) (pdf)
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