This stems from a piece of Kentucky's Antiterrorism Act of 2002, wherein the legislature held that "the safety and security of the Commonwealth cannot be achieved apart from reliance on Almighty God as set forth in public speeches and proclamations of American Presidents...." In 2006, this was enhanced by regulations (PDF) requiring the state Department of Homeland Security to publicize this "finding" of the legislature by including the reliance-on-Almighty-God language in its training and educational materials. These were challenged by American Atheists; a district court judge struck down the provision - rightly concluding that "the General Assembly has created an official government position on God" - then the state took it to the appeals court, which inexplicably held that the language about "Almighty God" is not attempting to compel belief or participation in religious exercise.
Which, um. To borrow a turn of phrase*, I don't so much beg as command to differ.
The appeals court held that
The Kentucky legislature has not attempted to compel belief or participation in any form of religious exercise, nor does it seek to prefer one belief over another. A simple reference to a generic “God” acknowledges religion in a general way.The notion of a phrase like "Almighty God" being a "general" reference to religion as a whole can only come from one's vast and unexamined reservoir of Christian privilege. It's the sort of thing a person would say if they've never really thought of the fact that "religion" is an extremely broad term encompassing dozens or even hundreds of distinct belief structures, only a few of which would use a phrase like "Almighty God" in that context.
Allow me to say this bluntly and explicitly for those who would agree with this finding: "God" is not a religiously-neutral term in any way, shape, form, or fashion, especially when "God" is capitalized and used like a name would be. The only possible way you could believe that would be if you defined "religion" as meaning "Judaism, Christianity, or Islam", all of which have at the center of their beliefs a singular male deity. Those are not, however, the only faiths to fall under the umbrella term "religion".
No, what you mean when you say "God" - especially a phrase like "Almighty God", which is straight out of Christian liturgy - is "religiously neutral" or is "acknowledging religion in a general way", is rather that "God" is nonsectarian, not explicitly indicating a specific denomination of Christianity. It does, however, explicitly exclude numerous pagan beliefs which either hold no gods (only goddesses), or many gods (none of which would be called capital-G God or Almighty God), or the Wiccan god who would be referred to as *the* God, not "Almighty God". It explicitly excludes Buddhism, Hinduism, Sikhism.
Really, the idea of "Almighty God" as "acknowledging religion in a general way" is utterly absurd, and attempting to defend it as such only shows how deeply ingrained your prejudice and privilege are, that you don't realize that "religion" does not mean "all the denominations of Christianity".
Furthermore, even if the phrase "Almighty God" were truly religiously neutral, to use it in the context it is in - to affirmatively declare that "reliance on Almighty God" is a requirement in order to secure the safety of one's country - is to attempt to compel belief. Especially when the phrase is then inserted in the training and educational materials given to state personnel, it is an explicit statement of government speech saying "You must believe in Almighty God in order to do your job."
It preferences belief over nonbelief - and what these Christian-supremacist judges seem to forget is that no matter how general a given acknowledgment of religion in government materials is, it will always exclude atheists entirely. There exists a "none of the above" response when it comes to religion, and that needs to be respected along with all the various shades of religious belief - which means NOT yanking phrases out of Christian prayers and sticking them in government documents.
This finding is absurd. It's expected that the case will be appealed to the Kentucky Supreme Court. I wish them luck, and I wish for the Kentucky Supreme Court all the logic, reason, and perception that prejudice and privilege stole from the appeals court judges.
*From Inga Muscio's book, Cunt