Tuesday, December 02, 2008

Weirdness Next Door

Last week, a Kentucky newspaper ran an interesting story (via PZ) about that state's anti-terrorism plans. Ironically, it rests a lot on faith:

The 2006 law organizing the state Office of Homeland Security lists its initial duty as 'stressing the dependence on Almighty God as being vital to the security of the Commonwealth.'

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.'
The executive has been playing along:
Under previous Gov. Ernie Fletcher, a lay Baptist preacher, Homeland Security interpreted the law at face value, prominently crediting God in its annual reports to state leaders and posting the required plaque.
Now, I figure this story had been laying around for a while. It was in the day after Thankgiving edition, after all, and struck me as the kind of filler somebody pulled out of the "slow news day" file. But it looks like somebody was paying attention:
An atheists-rights group is suing the Kentucky Office of Homeland Security because state law requires the agency to stress 'dependence on Almighty God as being vital to the security of the Commonwealth.'

American Atheists of Parsippany, N.J., and 10 non-religious Kentuckians are the plaintiffs in the lawsuit, set to be filed Tuesday in Franklin Circuit Court.
I agree with AA's legal director (who happens to live in Boone County, KY) that the law is "breathtakingly unconstitutional" and hope the declaratory judgment portion of the suit succeeds.

On the other hand, the plaintiff's claim for monetary damages - because they suffered "mental pain and anguish" as a result of the law - is silly. Anybody should be made of stronger stuff, but particularly atheists. We're supposed to be the doggedly rational bunch, right? Such a frivolous claim allows those on the other side to point out the whining instead of dealing with the constitutional issue.

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