A Kentucky law that requires the state Office of Homeland Security to stress "dependence on Almighty God as being vital to the security of the Commonwealth" was struck down as unconstitutional on Wednesday.
Franklin Circuit Judge Thomas Wingate said the 2006 law violates the federal and state constitutions prohibiting the establishment of an official religion.
"Even assuming that most of this nation's citizens have historically depended upon God by choice for their protection, this does not give the General Assembly the right to force citizens to do so now," Wingate wrote in his ruling.
The state Office of Homeland Security was established following the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.
The amendments referencing God were added by state Rep. Tom Riner (D-Louisville), a Southern Baptist minister. Homeland Security officials were required to assert the state's reliance on God in their reports and also on a plaque at the state's Emergency Operations Center.
The legislation, however, was only brought into the public light years later when the Herald-Leader reported on it last November.
American Atheists Inc. and ten Kentuckians filed a lawsuit in December against the "Almighty God" reference.
Riner said the legislation does not mandate Kentucky citizens to depend on God for safety. He has argued that the language is recognition that government alone cannot guarantee the perfect safety of the people.
The minister also has stressed that the legislation is reflective of U.S. history.
Disappointed in Wednesday's ruling, Riner said, "The decision would have shocked and disappointed Thomas Jefferson, who penned the words that the General Assembly paraphrased in this legislation," according to Herald-Leader.
Wingate ruled, however, that the purpose of the legislation is "not to celebrate the historical reasons for our great nation's survival in the face of terror and war."
"Its purpose is to declare publicly that the official position of the Commonwealth of Kentucky is that an Almighty God exists and that the function of that God is to protect us from our enemies," he wrote. "Effectively, the General Assembly has created an official government position on God. The recitation of the beliefs of past Presidents does not mask the clear purpose of the statutes."
Attorney General Jack Conway, who defended the law, is deciding whether to appeal the ruling.
Meanwhile, Riner argues that the law has nothing to do with promoting religion.
"God is not a religion," he said, according to The Associated Press. "God is God."