KENTUCKY – The Kentucky Supreme Court has declined to hear a challenge to a state law mandating that the commonwealth give credit to Almighty God for its homeland security.
The top court issued a brief order dated last week denying a petition to review the case. Several citizens represented by the group American Atheists had challenged the law.
By declining to take the case, the Supreme Court lets stand a 2011 split decision by the Kentucky Court of Appeals upholding the mandate.
At issue were two related laws passed in the wake of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.
The first was a 2002 “legislative finding” saying the “safety and security of the commonwealth cannot be achieved apart from reliance upon Almighty God.”
The second was a 2006 act creating the state’s Office of Homeland Security and requiring its executive director to publicize “dependence on Almighty God” in agency training and educational materials and through a plaque at the entrance to its emergency operations center. The office has done so in years since.
The plaintiffs sued in 2008, saying the laws violated constitutional bans on state-sponsored religion. Franklin Circuit Judge Thomas Wingate agreed, ruling that the state had “created an official government position on God.”
But in a 2-1 decision, the Court of Appeals reversed that decision and upheld the law, saying it “merely pays lip service to a commonly held belief in the puissance (power) of God” and does not advance religion.
Edwin Kagin, national legal director for American Atheists, said he was disappointed with the Supreme Court decision not to review the case. He said he would discuss options with his clients, which include letting the matter drop or bringing a challenge in the federal court system.
“What’s really frightening about this is it’s increasingly clear that these people (proponents of such legislation) want to establish the Christian religion, and they’re getting more and more blatant about it all the time,” he said.
When the case came before the Court of Appeals, virtually every state legislator, the attorney general and the governor had weighed in with briefs in favor of the law.
In last year’s Court of Appeals ruling, Senior Judge Ann O’Malley Shake was the sole dissenter. She said Wingate was correct in saying the legislation has an ‘impermissible effect of endorsing religion because it was enacted for a predominantly religious purpose and conveyed a message of mandatory religious belief.”
The Court of Appeals majority compared the case to that of an Ohio law, upheld by a federal appeals court in 2001, establishing a state motto, “With God, All Things Are Possible.” That ruling, the Kentucky appeals court said, harmonized with a long history of “all three government branches recognizing the role of religion in American life.”
But Shake said the Ohio motto is a “passive aphorism that places a duty upon no one,” while the Kentucky legislation requires the Homeland Security director to be “stressing to the public that dependence upon Almighty God is vital.”