Section 5 of the Kentucky Constitution says:
No preference shall ever be given by law to any religious sect, society or denomination; nor to any particular creed, mode of worship or system of ecclesiastical polity; nor shall any person be compelled to attend any place of worship, to contribute to the erection or maintenance of any such place, or to the salary or support of any minister of religion; nor shall any man be compelled to send his child to any school to which he may be conscientiously opposed; and the civil rights, privileges or capacities of no person shall be taken away, or in anywise diminished or enlarged, on account of his belief or disbelief of any religious tenet, dogma or teaching. No human authority shall, in any case whatever, control or interfere with the rights of conscience.With this in mind, I was gobsmacked to read in a Nov. 28, 2008 story in the Lexington Herald-Leader that the 2006 law organizing the Kentucky Office of Homeland Security lists its initial duty as "stressing the dependence on Almighty God as being vital to the security of the Commonwealth." I had been looking for Kentucky basketball news, and ended up stumbling onto this story that notes that the Kentucky Homeland Security office 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."
I was shocked. I was outraged. And so I emailed a summary of the article and a link to it to every Kentucky-affiliated atheist and secular-humanist group I could find. Only Kentucky Atheists wrote back, almost immediately. Edwin Kagin, the director of the group, couldn't believe it at first -- but there it was, and the story was being picked up by media all over the country (once it got picked up by Fark, there was no going back -- wonder who submitted it? Hmmmm....).
Kagin and several other Kentuckians have filed suit, saying that this is clearly a violation of the Kentucky state constitution. The threatening, hateful email he has received as a result has been... well, incredibly un-Christian... unfortunately, I couldn't be a part of the suit, as I am not currently a resident of Kentucky.
More than two hundred years ago, a group of English men well-studied in the French enlightenment created a new nation - the United States of America. They chose not to mention God in the country's Constitution and created a secular government, having seen the division and strife caused by mixing religion and government in Europe. George Washington, in his letter to the "Hebrew Congregation" of Newport, Rhode Island, did refer to "the Father" in his well wishes to the Jewish community of the new nation, but he also affirmed in that letter that being a part of the USA "requires only that they who live under its protection should demean themselves as good citizens in giving it on all occasions their effectual support." The Founders of this country *never* required a belief in God among the citizenry, and never advocated for such. By requiring an acknowledgement of God in the work of government workers, the State of Kentucky has not only violated the state's constitution, they have also violated the principles of the founders of this nation. One supposes the mandate for this acknowledgement of God refers to the God of Abraham and, therefore, only people who are Christians, Jewish or Muslim can work at the Kentucky state Office of Homeland Security, but people who are atheists, agnostics, or members of non-monotheist religions would not be allowed, as they cannot adhere to "the dependence on Almighty God" in their work. Is the faith of Christians in Kentucky so weak and are their numbers dwindling so severely that they must rely on coercion to force others to bow to their beliefs? Do they feel pride in instituting the kind of government-backed religious enforcement found in oppressive nations such as Saudi Arabia and Afghanistan? And what's next -- perhaps the state shall declare those who are not of the correct faith as not really citizens, and will not be protected or served by the Government?
How sad, how tragic, to see my native state engage in state-sponsored religious enforcement. Having lived in Afghanistan in 2007 for six months, and having frequently encountered refugees from countries where their particular religion is banned or oppressed, I am acutely aware of the dangers of this practice. I call on all state workers in Kentucky, regardless of their faith or lack their of, to stand up for the principles on which the USA was founded, and refuse to enforce this un-American act.
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