Kentucky Homeland Security Can Say "Almighty God"

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References to "Almighty God" in the training materials of the Kentucky Office of Homeland Security are not unconstitutional, a state appeals court ruled.

The Kentucky Legislature made the following statement when it set the framework for the state office of Homeland Security.

"The safety and security of the Commonwealth cannot be achieved apart from reliance on 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 of American history, and the text of President John F. Kennedy's Nov. 22, 1963 (the day he was assassinated) national security speech which concluded 'For as was written long ago: 'Except the Lord keep the city, the watchman waketh but in vain.'"

The law goes on to require the executive director of the office to publicize this legislative finding, "stressing the dependence on Almighty God," in its training materials and in a plaque at the state's Emergency Operations Center.

A group of citizens and American Atheists Inc. complained that the law unconstitutionally established a state religion in Kentucky.

The trial court ruled in the citizens' favor, but the court of appeals reversed the decision on Oct. 28.

"The Kentucky legislature has not attempted to compel belief or participation in any form of religious exercise, nor does it seek to prefer one belief over another," Judge Laurance VanMeter wrote for the court. "A simple reference to a generic 'God' acknowledges religion in a general way."

In a partially dissenting opinion, Judge Ann O'Malley Shake sided with the trial court on the citizens' complaint.

"The statutes are a sweeping declaration that the commonwealth will not survive absent reliance on an Almighty God, that citizens of the commonwealth are to be so informed, and that failure to comply with the mandatory provisions may result in prosecution," Shake wrote.

The judge sided with her colleagues, however, as to the fact that the American Atheists group lacked standing.

"In its complaint, American Atheists specifically alleged its members suffered physical and emotional damages, which included somatic discomforts, mental pain and anguish and anxiety," VanMeter wrote. "Without the participation of the members who allegedly suffered such damages, a court would have no way to determine the appropriateness of any such award."