A judge on Wednesday struck down a 2006 state law that required the Kentucky Office of Homeland Security to stress “dependence on Almighty God as being vital to the security of the commonwealth.”
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.
“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,” Wingate wrote.
“This is the very reason the Establishment Clause was created: to protect the minority from the oppression of the majority,” he wrote. “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.”
State Rep. Tom Riner, D-Louisville, a Southern Baptist minister, placed the “Almighty God” language into a homeland security bill without much notice.
Riner said Wednesday that he is unhappy with the judge’s ruling. The way he wrote the law, he said, it did not mandate that Kentuckians depend on God for their safety, it simply acknowledged that government without God cannot protect its citizens.
“The decision would have shocked and disappointed Thomas Jefferson, who penned the words that the General Assembly paraphrased in this legislation,” Riner said.
The Herald-Leader reported on the law last November, prompting jokes about Kentucky on late-night television shows and a lawsuit by American Atheists of Parsippany, N.J., and 10 non-religious Kentuckians. Wingate was ruling in that lawsuit.
“We’re delighted,” said Edwin Kagin, a Boone County lawyer and national legal director for American Atheists, on Wednesday. “It’s what a judge should do. This law was unconstitutional on its face.”
“I think we can all feel a little safer now,” Kagin said. “The real threats to our society come from within, not without, and that includes building a theocracy here in Kentucky.”
Attorney General Jack Conway defended the law in court, arguing that striking down such laws risked creating a secular society that is wholly separated from religion. A Conway spokeswoman said the attorney general’s office is reviewing the ruling and will decide whether to appeal.