Nearly every member of the Kentucky House of Representatives and Senate has signed a court brief demanding that the state be permitted to acknowledge “reliance upon Almighty God” in its Homeland Security department.
The controversy started last year after Franklin Circuit Court ruled that provisions in two laws requiring the Kentucky Office of Homeland Security to acknowledge God were a violation of church-state separation.
The first law, passed in 2002, contains a “legislative finding” declaring that the “safety and security of the Commonwealth cannot be achieved apart from reliance upon Almighty God.”
The second law, passed in 2006, goes a good bit further. It requires the Homeland Security Office to publicize the state’s “dependence on Almighty God” in agency educational and training material and mandates that a permanent plaque acknowledging God be posted at the department’s Emergency Operations Center.
The American Atheists v. Commonwealth of Kentucky case is on appeal, and the lawmakers have decided to weigh in. Ninety-six of the state’s 100 House members signed one brief while 35 of 38 state senators signed another.
The brief filed by the senators was written in part by Roy Moore, former chief justice of Alabama. Moore was ousted from the state’s high court in 2003 after he defied a federal court order to remove a 2.5-ton Ten Commandments monument from the judicial building in Montgomery.
Moore’s brief argues that the U.S. Supreme Court has misconstrued decades of church-state law and asserts that the First Amendment prohibits only the establishment of a national church.
The brief filed by the state representatives cites four antiquated Supreme Court rulings, some from the 19th century, in which justices referred to the United States as a Christian nation.
One of the few legislators who didn’t sign on told the Louisville Courier-Journal that he found the exercise offensive.
“We really do not depend on God for our physical security,” Rep. Jim Wayne, a Louisville Democrat who is Catholic, said. “We really continue to believe we can master that on our own with arms and spending about 50 cents of every tax dollar to the federal government to build up the American military-industrial complex. That to me is a bit of idolatry right there.”
Rep. Tom Riner, a Louisville Democrat and pastor of a Baptist church, took a different approach. Riner said the fact that so many lawmakers endorsed the effort shows that “we do trust in God in good times as well as in perilous times.” (Riner sponsored the religious language in the Homeland Security legislation.)
Ed Kagin, the attorney representing the plaintiffs, expressed dismay over the legislators’ intervention, telling the Courier-Journal that the laws were an attempt to create “theocracy.”