Lexington Herald-Leader: Ky. appeals court weighing God reference case


http://www.kentucky.com/2011/02/24/1647006/ky-appeals-court-set-to-hear-god.html#more

KY Homeland Security Plaque

By BRETT BARROUQUERE — Associated P ress

FRANKFORT, Ky. — A three-judge panel is weighing questions of God, public safety and whether putting the two in the same law amounts to a state’s establishment of religion.

In arguments before the Kentucky Court of Appeals on Thursday, attorneys for an atheist and a related national group and lawyers for Kentucky debated the case. Specifically, they talked about what prior references to God in the Declaration of Independence and Kentucky’s four constitutions meant for a law that created the Kentucky Office of Homeland Security, referencing a dependence on “Almighty God.”

Judge Ann O’Malley Shake told attorneys the court would carefully consider the case and expedite a decision.

At issue is Franklin Circuit Judge Thomas Wingate’s 2009 ruling that the phrase violates the U.S. and Kentucky constitutions of state-established religion. The law requires the Homeland Security director to post a plaque with the “Almighty God” reference in the department’s headquarters. Language in the 2006 legislation was inserted by state Rep. Tom Riner, D-Louisville, a pastor of Christ is King Baptist Church in Louisville.

Attorney Tad Thomas, representing the state, said the reference doesn’t necessarily make it a religious document.

“The secular purpose is asking for assistance in defense of the Commonwealth,” Thomas said.

Thomas said courts have consistently upheld that some references to God by government are permissible.

“So, how does this court distinguish between what is permissible and what is impermissible?” Shake asked.

Thomas also noted speeches made by presidents over 200 years.

“Since George Washington, every president in their inaugural speech referenced a deity to help assist and protect the nation,” Thomas said.

Attorney Edwin Kagin, who represented Michael Christerson and American Atheists Inc., said the language clearly calls for a reliance on God, making it an impermissible reference to religion.

“What if it said, ‘apart from reliance on the Flying Spaghetti Monster?'” Kagin said. “Then we would realize it is improper.”

Kagin also took exception to a brief filed by 35 state senators and 96 representatives urging the court to uphold the law, passed in response to the Sept. 11 attacks.

On rebuttal, Thomas said the founding fathers weren’t trying to ban all religious involvement in government, but rather the establishment of a single, state-sponsored church.

“This comes nowhere near it,” Thomas said.

Shake posed a question not addressed by the law.

“What if you had an executive director (of Homeland Security) who is an atheist?” Shake asked.

Thomas said that would raise “a whole set of issues,” but noted that the Homeland Security director is appointed by the governor, who would likely have to tackle the problem.

“I guess it would be up to the governor to take action,” Thomas said.

Read more: http://www.kentucky.com/2011/02/24/1647006/ky-appeals-court-set-to-hear-god.html#more#ixzz1EuvF75sT

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