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Kentucky: A Year in Jail for Not Believing in God?

Democratic state Rep. Tom Riner sponsors law that the Kentucky state Supreme Court has refused to review.

More evidence of creeping Christian Law? I’m sure Robert Spencer and company will be all over covering this encroachment on the separation of religion and state.

What if they were Muslim?

A Year in Jail for Not Believing in God? How Kentucky Is Persecuting Atheists

AlterNet / By Laura Gottesdiener

In Kentucky, a homeland security law requires the state’s citizens to acknowledge the security provided by the Almighty God–or risk 12 months in prison.

November 21, 2012  |   In Kentucky, a homeland security law requires the state’s citizens to acknowledge the security provided by the Almighty God–or risk 12 months in prison.

The law and its sponsor, state representative Tom Riner, have been the subject of controversy since the law first surfaced in 2006, yet the Kentucky state Supreme Court has refused to review its constitutionality, despite clearly violating the First Amendment’s separation of church and state.

“This is one of the most egregiously and breathtakingly unconstitutional actions by a state legislature that I’ve ever seen,” said Edwin Kagin, the legal director of American Atheists’, a national organization focused defending the civil rights of atheists. American Atheists’ launched a lawsuit against the law in 2008, which won at the Circuit Court level, but was then overturned by the state Court of Appeals.

The law states, “The safety and security of the Commonwealth cannot be achieved apart from reliance upon Almighty God as set forth in the public speeches and proclamations of American Presidents, including Abraham Lincoln’s historic March 30, 1863, presidential proclamation urging Americans to pray and fast during one of the most dangerous hours in American history, and the text of President John F. Kennedy’s November 22, 1963, national security speech which concluded: “For as was written long ago: ‘Except the Lord keep the city, the watchman waketh but in vain.’”

The law requires that plaques celebrating the power of the Almighty God be installed outside the state Homeland Security building–and carries a criminal penalty of up to 12 months in jail if one fails to comply. The plaque’s inscription begins with the assertion, “The safety and security of the Commonwealth cannot be achieved apart from reliance upon Almighty God.”

Tom Riner, a Baptist minister and the long-time Democratic state representative, sponsored the law.

“The church-state divide is not a line I see,” Riner told The New York Times shortly after the law was first challenged in court. “What I do see is an attempt to separate America from its history of perceiving itself as a nation under God.”

A practicing Baptist minister, Riner is solely devoted to his faith–even when that directly conflicts with his job as state representative. He has often been at the center of unconstitutional and expensive controversies throughout his 26 years in office. In the last ten years, for example, the state has spent more than $160,000 in string of losing court cases against the American Civil Liberties Union over the state’s decision to display the Ten Commandments in public buildings, legislation that Riner sponsored.

Although the Kentucky courts have yet to strike down the law, some judges have been explicit about its unconstitutionality.

“Kentucky’s law is a legislative finding, avowed as factual, that the Commonwealth is not safe absent reliance on Almighty God. Further, (the law) places a duty upon the executive director to publicize the assertion while stressing to the public that dependence upon Almighty God is vital, or necessary, in assuring the safety of the commonwealth,” wrote Judge Ann O’Malley Shake in Court of Appeals’ dissenting opinion.

This rational was in the minority, however, as the Court of Appeals reversed the lower courts’ decision that the law was unconstitutional.

Last week, American Atheists submitted a petition to the U.S. Supreme Court to review the law.

Riner, meanwhile, continues to abuse the state representative’s office, turning it into a pulpit for his God-fearing message.

“The safety and security of the state cannot be achieved apart from recognizing our dependence upon God,” Riner recently told Fox News.

“We believe dependence on God is essential. … What the founding fathers stated and what every president has stated, is their reliance and recognition of Almighty God, that’s what we’re doing,” he said.

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  • Reynardine

    Janet, don’t just move to Kentucky. Move to Harlan County. Any Kentuckian will understand this.

  • CriticalDragon1177

    Janet Lawrence,

    How is the state of Kentucky standing for righteousness by forcing people to acknowledge God, if they don’t believe in him? Also, what about people believe in a different god?

    Do you realize that in ancient Rome, similar logic was used to justify forcing Christians to worship the emperor?

  • albakrastani

    Better make certain Kentucky joins Texas when it secedes … One country under a Christian God , with separate equalities for all …..

  • Janet Lawrence

    Thank you Kentucky for taking a stand for truth and righteousnes. It is very refreshing. If one does not stand for something he will fall for anything. The atheists have forced the removal of God from our schools and all public areas where once we were all reminded that we answer to someone greater than ourselves. Is it any wonder that our moral compasses are so off target and our country is in a downward spiral. It makes me want to move to Kentucky!

  • Elle Jaye Slutzky

    wow – so, given that churches get hit by storms and tornadoes sort of defies the logic. belief in a higher power does NOT mean you are safe!

  • mindy1

    Is this guy for real??? Shouldn’t faith be voluntary, otherwise it’s not meaningful??? What law is HE following? :shock:

  • Truth Hurts

    Is this real in a liberal secular democracy, albeit with strong Judeo-Christian foundations, recoiling from bigoted Old European sectarianism?

    Is this law just meant to be a quaint social tradition based upon history rather than a legally enforceable legal attack?

    What about freedom of private conscience as opposed to insulting abusive public grandstanding?

    When good men…

  • CriticalDragon1177


    Believe it or not, I just saw this story over on Alternet, and was planning on sending it your way. Anyway, I’m still glad you saw it, and decided to run with it.

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