An atheists-rights group is suing the Kentucky Office of Homeland Security because state law requires the agency to stress "dependence on Almighty God as being vital to the security of the Commonwealth."
American Atheists of Parsippany, N.J., and 10 non-religious Kentuckians are the plaintiffs in the lawsuit, set to be filed Tuesday in Franklin Circuit Court.
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Edwin Kagin, a Boone County lawyer and the national legal director of American Atheists, said he was appalled to read in the Herald-Leader last week that state law establishes praising God — and installing a plaque in God's honor — as the first duty of the Homeland Security Office.
The state and federal constitutions both prohibit government from getting involved in religion, Kagin said Monday.
"This is one of the most outrageous things I've seen in 35 years of practicing law. It's breathtakingly unconstitutional," Kagin said.
Gov. Steve Beshear's office had not seen the suit and therefore had no comment, spokesman Jay Blanton said.
The requirement to credit God for Kentucky's protection was tucked into 2006 homeland security legislation by state Rep. Tom Riner, D-Louisville, a Southern Baptist minister.
"This is recognition that government alone cannot guarantee the perfect safety of the people of Kentucky," Riner said last week.
Riner said he expects Homeland Security to include language recognizing God's benevolent protection in its official reports and other materials — sometimes the agency does, and sometimes it doesn't — and to maintain a plaque with that message at the state's Emergency Operations Center in Frankfort.
In the suit, American Atheists argues that Homeland Security should focus on public-safety threats rather than promote religion. The suit notes that the federal and state homeland security agencies were created as a result of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks by Muslim fundamentalists, and it refers to those attacks as "a faith-based initiative."
The plaintiffs ask for the homeland security law to be stripped of its references to God. They also ask for monetary damages, claiming to have suffered sleeping disorders and "mental pain and anguish."
"Plaintiffs also suffer anxiety from the belief that the existence of these unconstitutional laws suggest that their very safety as residents of Kentucky may be in the hands of fanatics, traitors or fools," according to the suit.