Tom Eblen

God doesn't need government's help

Someday, when state officials have added up all of the taxpayer money that will be spent on the lawsuit filed this week by an atheist group, I hope they will send the bill to state Rep. Tom Riner.

To help him pay it, Riner could then take up a collection among the legislators who supported his floor amendment.

American Atheists Inc. sued the state because Riner, a Louisville Democrat and Baptist minister, inserted the amendment two years ago into legislation organizing the Kentucky Office of Homeland Security. The amendment designated the office's first duty as "stressing the dependence on Almighty God as being vital to the security of the Commonwealth."

The amendment requires the office to publicize God's benevolent protection in its literature, and to post at the entrance to the state Emergency Operations Center a plaque with an 88-word statement that begins, "The safety and security of the Commonwealth cannot be achieved apart from reliance upon Almighty God."

"This is recognition that government alone cannot guarantee the perfect safety of the people of Kentucky," Riner told Herald-Leader reporter John Cheves last month. "Government itself, apart from God, cannot close the security gap."

As a person of faith — and a fellow Christian — I agree with Riner's views about God's role in the security of our state, nation and world.

As an American citizen, though, I don't think it is government's place to promote God.

And, as a Kentucky taxpayer, I'm furious that tens of thousands of dollars of public money is likely to be spent litigating this obviously unconstitutional attempt to require government to do the work of churches, synagogues and mosques.

I wouldn't be so angry if this was an isolated case, but it's not. Certain stripes of Christians have, time and again, cost Kentucky taxpayers big bucks because they insist on mixing church and state.

Federal judges, whether appointed by Democrats or Republicans, have generally agreed for the past half-century that when the framers of the U.S. Constitution wrote that "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof," they meant it. And they also meant it should apply to officials in Kentucky.

Just last month, the American Civil Liberties Union and two other plaintiffs were awarded more than $47,000 in attorneys' fees and court costs after a federal court struck down one of many attempts by public officials in Kentucky to post the Ten Commandments in public buildings.

It's hard to say how much public money has been spent defending these lawsuits. Until recently, the attorney general's office didn't keep records detailed enough to know how much time state lawyers spent working on them. But the cost has been significant, both in public employee time and taxpayer cash paid to plaintiffs' lawyers.

Of course, the people who support efforts like those of Riner are quick to demonize the ACLU and others who challenge them. It's like blaming a cop because he catches you speeding.

It's too early to say how the state will handle this latest lawsuit. Allison Gardner Martin, communications director for the state attorney general, said it is against office policy to comment on pending litigation.

My guess is that a court will eventually decide that the Kentucky Office of Homeland Security has no business promoting God. And, when it's all said and done, it will have cost Kentucky taxpayers an additional $40,000 or so.

Think for a moment about how we could better spend that money. For one thing, we could hire another police officer or firefighter. That would be much more effective than a plaque at protecting Kentuckians from natural disasters and foreign terrorists who think their God wants them to kill us.

Here's what I believe: God doesn't want recognition from our government. He wants our government's leaders to use the talents and resources he gave them to make Kentucky a better place for his people. And he certainly does not want them putting public money into the pockets of atheists.