American Atheists Sues the State of Kentucky

***Update***: Here’s a PDF of the lawsuit.

By now, you’ve heard this absurd story.

Kentucky’s first line of defense against terrorism is God.

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.

Besides being a useless defense system (and possibly shifting focus away from defense methods that could actually work), it’s an illegal promotion of religion.

American Atheists is now suing the state, with the help of “10 non-religious Kentuckians.” The lawsuit will be filed on Tuesday.

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.

I agree. Though the reasoning for the lawsuit is odd:

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.

Really? “Mental pain and anguish”?

I find that hard to believe. This wasn’t even news until a few days ago — did anyone report this story before then? The law has been in the books since 2006. What were these plaintiffs doing during the past two years? Biding their time until this news received more attention?

It seems foolish to ask for monetary damages for something like that. Hell, we’ve had President Bush at the helm for the past eight years — that’s much more of a cause for sleeplessness and anguish than God.

  • Doreen

    They should have found a business or business owner who was openly non-religious. The monetary damages would make more sense in that case. The business suffered due to the damage of it’s reputation due to the religious nature of the legislation and plaque.

  • Pingback: American Atheists Sue Kentucky to Make Kentucky Do More than Pray for Safety « Altarkation’s Blog

  • http://frodology.blogspot.com FrodoSaves

    This isn’t going to help much, because I don’t remember when and where I read about it, but I definitely do remember reading about it quite a while ago.

    I could perhaps see damages being awarded for discomfort arising from knowing that your state’s first line of defense was communion wafer-thin. But even that is a stretch.

  • Renacier

    Those idiots have destroyed the credibility of their case. I almost hope they lose.

  • mikespeir

    I’m pretty much with the others. This will leave the impression that nonbelievers’ first interest is sponging money off the taxpayers. I hope they win and are awarded no monetary “damages.”

  • PrimeNumbers

    For them to sue, they probably have to at least claim harm. This is a fault of the law, rather than on the good atheists who really just want this nonsense stopped.

  • http://www.sheeptoshawl.com writerdd

    I don’t know. If I really thought there was a risk of terrorist attack in Kentucky and I found out that the state government’s first and most important line of defense was God, I would certainly be suffering mental anguish, knowing that this was equal to no line of defense at all.

  • Mike Bartram

    I agree with writerdd — plus the 911 attack itself was organized religion in action — just an attempt at a modern-day inquisition by 19 criminals, mostly from countries our religious government considers allies. Of course Kentucky should be sued. Not for money, but to stop this unconstitutional nonsense. But just as important: as voters, we should also stop the nonsense of believing that politicians have to fake being religious to get elected. But, sadly, they do.

  • JBM

    The case sounds like a classic trial lawyer set-up: claim “pain and suffering” by the client in order to justify the case and the damages. Still, as other posters have already mentioned, the claim and the pursuit of damages (probably to pay the attorneys) really tarnishes their objective. This would be a better case for FFRA or ACLU.

    On another note, I can’t help from thinking how others’ fervent beliefs in their god got us into this need for homeland security thing in the first place. I don’t recall any secularist attackers or other threats (beyond our perennial “War on Christmas”) that justified such measures in this county.

    -jbm

  • http://www.sheeptoshawl.com writerdd

    JBM, there is no war on Christmas. So I guess that cancels out the only secularist threat. The war on Christmas is imaginary, just like the best friend of the people who believe there is a war on Christmas.

  • JBM

    writerdd,

    You are correct: there is no war on Christmas. T’was sarcasm on my part.

    Merry Christmas, mate. ;)

    -JBM

  • Richard Wade

    Does anybody else think that proclaiming that (the Christian) God is the first line of defense in Kentucky would make Kentucky a tempting target for Muslim crazies wanting to demoralize and humiliate Americans? Or am I just unique in the evil way I think?

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  • http://starseyer.blogspot.com Mikayla

    I know more than one of the plaintiffs personally, and was offered to be one myself. (I turned it down for personal reasons.) But I support the case wholeheartedly. I’m not sure what the deal is with the ‘financial damages’ but from previous legal experience I suspect that is probably just the way the cases are written and that it will be hashed out in court. The people I know as plaintiffs don’t care or intend to get any money whatsoever from this, though I can’t speak for American Atheists.

    I think the citizens have, or at least should have, good standing in this case. If the citizens themselves can’t challenge idiocy like this in our state and national governments, who can? At best it is taxpayer dollars going to pay the salaries of those who are wasting their time on this nonsense, and at worst is discriminatory against any atheists that may now or in the future work in the Ky State government. Forced to acknowledge ‘almighty God’ my foot!

    Besides that, if this went unchallenged, you just know the religious right would have a field day in using this law to ‘prove’ that this is a ‘Christian Nation’, just as they now use the phrase ‘under God’ in the pledge. We can’t just let it go unchallenged.

  • Ginny

    I think I’m going to file a lawsuit about these people making me literally sick! If you do not believe in God… that’s your choice. However, how can these people live in a country that was founded and built on religion and moral convictions. How can you work and accept money that has IN GOD WE TRUST printed on it for your personal gain? I have had enough… I am a Christian and I am tired of it. This country has opened it arms to you, but don’t try to change what beliefs our country is built on. If you don’t like it here… GET OUT! That simple. It is time that the Christians out there get off of there behinds and make some noise. We are not going to stand for this anymore. Practice your religion freely… we allow that, but don’t try to change our Christian nation… IN GOD WE TRUST! We have heard enough… Shut up and/or get out!

  • http://johntfrazer.blogspot.com johntfrazer

    Thank you Ginny, you’ve summed up perfectly . . .

    . . . Why laws like this are considered a problem.

    It’s not YOUR country. It’s OUR country (as in yours and mine). You say “GET OUT,” but where would we go, and why should we be the ones to leave?

    Laws like this, and responses like yours, feed the gnawing suspicion that some atheists (and members of other minorities) have, that we’re only barely tolerated, that we’re not welcome in the only home we’ve ever known, that the majority secretly despises us and wishes to use our civic institutions to do us harm.

    Paranoid? Most of the time I think so, but there are times, when the laws are nakedly discriminatory, and when the majority seems so reluctant to stick up for the minority, and when the majority’s fringes use the minority’s discomfort to vent its vitriol, that I think maybe it’s not so paranoid after all.

    What’s especially frustrating about this case is that so many Christians automatically line up against atheists, regardless of the merits of the case. This law is a flagrant violation of the first ammendment, and not in an “atheists get weird at any mention of God” kind of way.

    Even if you think the founders were fundamentalist Christians, it is undeniable that, at the very least, the establisment clause was meant to protect individual Christian theologies and denominations from each other. This law is not simply a variation of “in god we trust,” but a government sponsoring of a specific, strong, controversial theological interpretation – that God actively intervenes in human affairs, takes an interest in specific political conflicts, and makes concrete material promises to people who believe in him.

    This is not only not vanilla theism. It’s not vanilla Christianity. This is a specific doctrine that is being espoused. Even if you believe that atheists have not standing in the public sphere, this is a constitutional violation.

    (I write more about this on my blog).

  • john w

    According to the interview with Dave Silverman on MSNBC, federal law states that you cannot sue in federal court unless you ask for punitive damages. The purpose of the suit is to change this ridiculous language in the KY law, not make money.