Phew! Kentucky’s ‘God plaque’ law won’t be used to jail atheists

DESPITE the fact that good ol’ Kentucky is so devout that it felt compelled to introduce a “God plaque” law to protect its security, Kentucky atheist Ricky Smith recently succeeded in putting a stop to religious babbling at public meetings in his native Boyle County – and quickly became the victim of a hate campaign.

Ricky Smith

Ricky Smith

According to this report, Smith had a quiet word with Boyle County Judge-Executive Harold McKinney about the issue of Judeo-Christian prayers during public meetings. As a result, county magistrates voted to change the invocation to a “moment of silence”.

Smith had attended several fiscal court sessions because he hoped to run for political office. But he was made to feel like a “second-class citizen” during the prayer portion of the meeting. He said:

Being expected to pray just to be a part of local government is not going to work for me, nor would it work for Jews, Buddhists, Hindus, Muslims, pagans or Wiccans.

Smith did not plan to become a militant advocate for the separation of church and state. He met privately with McKinney and unsuccessfully attempted several times to meet with Danville Mayor Bernie Hunstad about the prayers conducted at Danville City Commission meetings.

Even though Smith deliberately did not express his views publicly, an unknown person using the website Topix “outed” Smith as an atheist and the man who killed public prayer at Fiscal Court meetings.

A former friend also made disparaging remarks about Smith on Facebook, and a few people made harassing telephone calls to his residence, he said.

 They’re getting down right mean. 

He noted that if ridiculing a man’s weight and lack of religious beliefs is a proper Christian attitude, then he is now even more convinced that atheism is the right path for his life.

I’ve become a better person since I realized I was an atheist. I am much more tolerant now.

When Smith was attending Christian church services, he felt “brainwashed” into being prejudiced against all homosexuals as well as heterosexual people who had premarital sex. He asserted:

People are not understanding that freedom of religion also means freedom from religion. We are in a diverse country.

Smith said he and other taxpayers who are not Christians should not have their money used for promoting Christianity, especially since the US Constitution mandates the separation of church and state. He hopes the Fiscal Court will continue the “moment of silence” and stop having prayer meetings in the fiscal courtroom before the official sessions.

Smith does not intend to stop fighting for the cause despite the insults and borderline threats made against him, but hopes people who have similar beliefs will also come forward.

According to this report, Kentucky’s law requires that plaques celebrating the power of the Almighty God be installed outside the state Homeland Security building. The text of the inscription on the plaques begins with the assertion:

The safety and security of the Commonwealth cannot be achieved apart from reliance upon Almighty God.

The law is part of a Kentucky state homeland security bill that passed in 2008. Disobey it and you face a jail 12-month jail sentence.

Edwin Kagin, legal director of American Atheists, said:

This is one of the most egregiously and breathtakingly unconstitutional actions by a state legislature that I’ve ever seen.

Earlier this month American Atheists submitted a petition to the US Supreme Court to review the law.

Truthdig reports that 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.

When headlines suggested that the law was designed to smack down atheists, the Kentucky Office of Homeland Security got the hump, and made it clear that citizens of the state would not be jailed for being non-believers. The office wrote:

It is true that we do have a law in Kentucky that mandates that the executive director of the Office of Homeland Security publish a reference to ‘Almighty God’ in regards to the ‘safety and security of the Commonwealth’, which appears as a plaque at the entrance of the Emergency Operations Center.

Violating this law, or any other statues required by the Kentucky Division of Emergency Management, could result in being found guilty of a Class A misdemeanor, which carries a sentence of up to one year in jail.

The genius behind the law is Tom Riner, a Baptist minister and the long-time Democratic state representative.

Loopy Baptist Tom Riner

Loopy Baptist Tom Riner

“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.
Riner sticks to his faith like shit to a blanket – even when it 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 lost 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.