Under state law, God is Kentucky's first line of defense against terrorism.
The 2006 law organizing the state Office of Homeland Security lists its initial duty as "stressing the dependence on Almighty God as being vital to the security of the Commonwealth."
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Specifically, Homeland Security is ordered to publicize God's benevolent protection in its reports, and it must post a plaque at the entrance to the state Emergency Operations Center with an 88-word statement that begins, "The safety and security of the Commonwealth cannot be achieved apart from reliance upon Almighty God."
State Rep. Tom Riner, a Southern Baptist minister, tucked the God provision into Homeland Security legislation as a floor amendment that lawmakers overwhelmingly approved two years ago.
As amended, Homeland Security's religious duties now come before all else, including its distribution of millions of dollars in federal grants and its analysis of possible threats.
The time and energy spent crediting God are appropriate, said Riner, D-Louisville, in an interview this week.
"This is recognition that government alone cannot guarantee the perfect safety of the people of Kentucky," Riner said. "Government itself, apart from God, cannot close the security gap. The job is too big for government."
Nonetheless, it is government that operates the Office of Homeland Security in Frankfort, with a budget this year of about $28 million, mostly federal funds. And some administrations are more religious than others.
Under previous Gov. Ernie Fletcher, a lay Baptist preacher, Homeland Security interpreted the law at face value, prominently crediting God in its annual reports to state leaders and posting the required plaque.
Under Gov. Steve Beshear, officials this week said they didn't know about the plaque until the Herald-Leader called to ask whether it's still there. (They checked; it is.) The 2008 Homeland Security report, issued a month ago, did not credit God, but it did complain about a decline in federal funding from Washington.
Thomas Preston, Beshear's Homeland Security chief, said he isn't interested in stepping into a religious debate, and he hasn't given this part of his duties much thought.
"I will not try to supplant almighty God," Preston said. "All I do is try to obey the dictates of the Kentucky General Assembly. I really don't know what their motivation was for this. They obviously felt strongly about it."
There is no reference to God in Homeland Security's current mission statement or on its Web site, which displeases Riner.
"We certainly expect it to be there, of course," Riner said.
But state Sen. Kathy Stein, D-Lexington, said Homeland Security should worry about public safety threats instead of preaching religious homilies.
"It's very sad to me that we do this sort of thing," said Stein, a frequent critic of efforts to mix religion and government. "It takes away from the seriousness of the public discussion over security, and it clearly hurts the credibility of this office if it's supposed to be depending on God, first and foremost."