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Ear to the Ground

In Kentucky, a Year in Prison for Atheism

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Posted on Nov 23, 2012
peasap (CC BY 2.0)

A Kentucky law requires residents and government officials to affirm the existence of an almighty, protective God via a series of plaques installed outside the state Homeland Security building, with a penalty of up to 12 months in prison for failure to comply.

The law first appeared in 2006 as a consequence of the efforts of its sponsor, Baptist minister and state representative Tom Riner. Although the law clearly violates the First Amendment’s separation of church and state, the Kentucky state Supreme Court has refused to review its constitutionality.

“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 by an atheist organization and a group of state residents. “What I do see is an attempt to separate America from its history of perceiving itself as a nation under God.”

“Since 2002, state and local officials have spent more than $160,000 in legal fees, having lost case after case to the American Civil Liberties Union for posting the Ten Commandments in public buildings, and they still owe $400,000 for a 2005 case in which the Supreme Court ruled that such displays should be removed,” The New York Times reported in 2009.

—Posted by Alexander Reed Kelly.

Laura Gottesdiener at AlterNet:

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.”

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