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 THE TEN COMMANDMENTS

The "Justice Moore" conflict
Part 1: up to 2003-JULY

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Sponsored link.


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See later events in the Chief Justice Moore case:
2003-AUG, the rest of 2003, and during 2004 and after

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Overview:

The monument was installed in the rotunda of the State Judicial Building, in Montgomery, AL on 2001-AUG-1. The building houses the Alabama Supreme Court. Chief Justice Roy Moore was ordered by the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals to remove the monument because it violates the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution and its principle of separation of church and state. He refused.

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About Chief Justice Roy Moore: According to AANews, Alabama judge Roy "Moore had erected a wooden plaque of the Commandments in his courtroom, and survived two legal challenges over the issue. In 2000, he ran for the state's highest judicial post and promised to bring his bellicose crusade to display the Ten Commandments to the capital.  He kept his promise..." 1

In 2002-FEB, Moore wrote a separate concurring opinion in a case before the Alabama Supreme Court in which he blasted homosexuality on religious as well as legal grounds. The case involved a lesbian who sought custody of her three minor children. The court unanimously rejected her case. Moore wrote that homosexuality is "a sin [that] violates both natural and revealed law." He cited verses from the books of Genesis and Leviticus in the Bible. He called homosexuality "an evil disfavored under the law," "an inherent evil," a "detestable and an abominable sin," and "an act so heinous that it defies one’s ability to describe it." He suggested that the death penalty is an appropriate response to homosexual behavior. He wrote: "The State carries the power of the sword, that is, the power to prohibit conduct with physical penalties, such as confinement and even execution. It must use that power to prevent the subversion of children toward this lifestyle, to not encourage a criminal lifestyle." Rev. Barry W. Lynn, executive director of Americans United for Separation of Church and State, responded: "It appears that Justice Moore is once again making his decisions on the basis of his personal religious beliefs, not the commands of the law,. Justice Moore would make a great official of the Inquisition, but he doesn’t belong on a state supreme court. I don’t know what to expect next from Moore. Perhaps a witch burning?" 2

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2001-AUG-1: Ten Commandments monument is installed: Chief Justice Roy Moore had a 5,280 pound granite monument created. It is four feet tall and displays two tablets on which the Decalogue is engraved. (See photograph above). Also on the monument are quotes from historical American figures which support the Decalogue as the foundation for the country's system of law.  It was secretly installed in the rotunda of the Alabama Supreme Court building in Montgomery, AL, during the middle of the night. The other other Supreme Court justices were not informed in advance. Moore delivered a speech after the unveiling of the monument in which he discounted all religions in America other than Christianity and Judaism. He said: "To restore morality we must first recognize the source from which all morality springs. From our earliest history in 1776 when we were declared to be the United States of America, our forefathers recognized the sovereignty of God.'' 3

In reaction to this display:

bulletJoel Sogol, an ACLU attorney, said: "Our courts should enforce secular law, and not God's law. No one should be made to feel as an outsider in their own community. Certainly there are going to be any number of [non-Judeo-Christian] people who...get the message that they don't belong.''  
bullet Americans United for Separation of Church and State, (a.k.a. Americans United) has indicated that they would probably file a lawsuit.
bulletScott Barnett, staff attorney for the Alabama Supreme Court, said that the display is constitutional, because the Commandments do not have to be displayed with other historic documents. The media accounts did not record why Barnett felt that this monument, which is clearly in conflict with numerous senior court decisions, is constitutional. 3

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2001-AUG-31: Alabama: Response to the Chief Justice's Decalogue monument: "In what may be a prelude to court action, the American Atheists State Director for Alabama has asked for permission to display a sculpture of the organization's logo in proximity to a controversial Ten Commandments monument erected in the Judicial Building....[Attorney] Larry Darby said that he wished to install a small presentation featuring the atomic whirl, 'representing the importance of the use of scientific analysis in the creation of a better life for mankind.'...Referring to the large Decalogue monument, Darby continued: "There are plenty of churches, mosques, temples and other houses of worship for the citizens of this state where they may voluntarily practice their faith. We don't need to turn the state court building into a religious shrine. This is all about the separation of church and state. Judge Moore used his authority as Chief Justice of the supreme court to erect a monument which, to any reasonable observer, is religious and commands obedience to a particular God."

In an unrelated effort, " ...a group of black legislators attempted to erect a memorial to the late Dr. Martin Luther King in the court rotunda, but were blocked in their efforts." 13

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2001-OCT-30: Lawsuit filed: Two groups, the American Civil Liberties Union of Alabama and Americans United for Separation of Church and State, filed a lawsuit in the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Alabama. The suit asks that the monument be removed from Alabama's Supreme Court building. The submission states that the monument: "sends a message to all who enter the State Judicial Building that the government encourages and endorses the practice of religion in general and Judeo-Christianity in particular." Janet Folger, national director of the Center for Reclaiming America stated: "It just goes to show, if you repeat a lie often enough and loud enough, people will start to believe it. This is all part of the ACLU's strategy of intimidation, and censoring of our nation's Christian heritage. Fortunately, we have great Americans like Chief Justice Moore, the county board members of Chester County, and Christian stalwarts all across the country who are taking a stand for the Ten Commandments." 4

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2002-NOV-18: District Court ruling: As expected, in 2002-NOV, U.S. District Judge Myron Thompson ruled in favor of the plaintiffs. He said that the presence of the monument "constitutes government endorsement of religion" 5  He cited statements by Moore that the monument's purpose was "...to remind (people)... that in order to establish justice we must invoke 'the favor and guidance of almighty God.' " Thompson ordered that the monument be removed within thirty days. On DEC-11, Judge Moore declared that he will file an appeal in federal court. He said: "Federal district courts have no jurisdiction or authority to prohibit the acknowledgment of God that is specifically recognized in the Constitution of Alabama...For a federal court to say we cannot acknowledge God contradicts our history and our law....Our state motto is 'We Dare Defend Our Rights,' The time has come when we can do no less." 6 Judge Thompson put his order on hold until the 11th Circuit Appeals Court issues a ruling. 7

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2002-DEC-12: Legal battle over 5,280 pound granite monument continues: The plaintiff's attorneys have submitted a bill to Judge Moore for $ 704,000 in legal fees to cover the expenses of six lawyers and nearly a year of research and case preparation.

A Texas group, American Veterans in Domestic Defense (AVIDD), and the Christian Coalition of Alabama decided to sponsor a rally in support of Moore and the monument on DEC-16. Members of AVIDD are then expected to march to the Alabama Judicial Building to "view and guard the Ten Commandments monument." American Atheists, who support church-state separation, decided to conduct a counter-protest. 6

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2002-DEC-16: Demonstration and counter-demonstration: American Veterans in Domestic Defense and the Alabama Christian Coalition rallied about 350 supporters in front of the state capitol building. They urged that the Ten Commandments remain.
bulletRetired Colonel and AVIDD member, James Ammerson from Dallas, TX, gave a speech covering many topics, from the monument to President Bush's portrayal of Islam as a peaceful religion.  He suggested that the United States may have to "burn a couple of nations down." He said: "I've read the Koran, and I believe Allah's proper name is Lucifer." He suggested that the only way America could survive the present moral crisis is to be believe in God "and live according to the tenets of his Good Book, the Bible....The Ten Commandments are the kinds of things (sic) that allow us to have a decent society where we can live together in peace..."
bulletJames Cabaniss, the president of the AVIDD, criticized the courts for ordering the removal of religious monuments, and added that America "had lost its way...Lawyers are trained with the tools to be deceptive. With any absence of moral integrity they become evil forces in society."
bulletRepresentatives of a secessionist group, the League of the South, were also present at the rally. According to AANews, some warn that the League "is the nexus of an emerging neo-Confederate movement.  Founded in 1994 as the Southern League, it
presents a public facade of being concerned with 'culture' and 'heritage,' and has become increasingly hostile toward blacks and other minorities.  The group's president, Michael Hill, denounces racial intermarriages and has described slavery as a 'God-ordained' institution.
"
bulletIn reaction to the rally was a greatly outnumbered counter-demonstration organized by Atheists and others who support the separation of church and state. AANews reported that: "While there were no physical confrontations, there were verbal exchanges including cat-calls from the AVIDD contingent describing the Atheists as 'white trash'."
bulletLarry Darby Larry Darby, Alabama State Director of American Atheists commented: "If two Christian organizations such as AVIDD and the Christian Coalition, backed up by the League of the South can only turn out a few hundred, out of alleged millions of Christians, Atheists should be proud to field only a dozen Citizen-Patriots." 1

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Sponsored link:

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2002-DEC-19: Current status of the court case: Federal Court Judge Thompson has ruled that Moore has until 2003-JAN-3 to remove the Ten Commandments monument. He stayed that decision pending an appeal by Moore  to the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals. Moore believes that removal of the monument would be in violation of both the Alabama and U.S. Constitutions. He says that federal law does not apply to actions by individual states. He has said: "If you can't recognize this God, it violates the Constitution of Alabama...."I think the (U.S.) Constitution never forbade the acknowledgement of God, so I'm upholding the Constitution. I think I am bound by the Constitution, not this court." 1

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2003-JUL-1: Court of Appeals rules that the monument must go: The 11th Circuit Court of Appeals in Atlanta unanimously ruled that the monument's presence violates the constitution. Judge Ed Carnes wrote the ruling on behalf of the court. He stated that if the monument remained, then "the chief justice would be free to adorn the walls of the Alabama Supreme Court's courtroom with sectarian religious murals and have decidedly religious quotations painted above the bench....Every government building could be topped with a cross, or a menorah, or a statue of Buddha, depending upon the views of the officials with authority over the premises."

Referring to Moore's assertion that he does not have to obey the decision of the court, Justice Carnes made reference to school desegregation conflicts. He wrote: "Any notion of high government officials being above the law did not save those governors from having to obey federal court orders, and it will not save this chief justice from having to comply with the court order in this case.... The rule of law does require that every person obey judicial orders when all available means of appealing them have been exhausted. The chief justice of a state supreme court, of all people, should be expected to abide by that principle. We do expect that if he is unable to have the district court's order overturned through the usual appellate processes, when the time comes Chief Justice Moore will obey that order....If necessary, the court order will be enforced. The rule of law will prevail." 10

The court also noted that Protestant King James Version of the Decalogue is inscribed on the monument, which is only one of a number of competing translations. According to the Associated Baptist Press: "The court's opinion took special note that different religious traditions -- including different traditions within Christianity itself -- have different ways of translating and arranging the Exodus passages from which the commandments are drawn. Therefore, the court said, it was difficult to view the sculpture as anything but an endorsement of Protestant Christianity." 7

Attorney Ayesha Khan, legal director for Americans United for Separation of Church and State, said: "The Ten Commandments are too personal, too holy, too sacred to be used as a political football by Justice Moore. What Justice Moore did in this case is so egregious that we felt confident all along that we would prevail."

Tom Parker, a spokesperson for Justice Moore said that the case would be appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court. 8

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2003-JUL-3: Reactions to court decision: Wendy Brown, professor of law at Tulane University, predicted that a reversal by the full 11th Circuit Court is unlikely. She said: "Certainly the Supreme Court seems to be taking a relatively hands-off position in lower court cases around the First Amendment. I certainly think it's been a wake-up call to the Christian community that we need to do more to instill values in other ways because that line between church and state is pretty firm." 9

Sadie Fields of the Christian Coalition of Georgia wrote: "Once again the court, basing its decision on humanistic standards, continues in its relentless quest to erase the God of the Bible from the public square. The courts are increasingly exercising raw judicial power, ignoring the checks and balances found in the Constitution.  Without the guiding principles of that document, and acknowledgement that it was written based upon eternal truths, the U. S. Supreme Court – and other courts – are fast on the way to becoming the supreme law of the land."

An editorial in the Montgomery Advertiser newspaper recommended that Justice Moore end his fight. "....having lost again in the Ten Commandments monument case, [Moore] should end this unconstitutional journey and remove the monument before any more time, money and energy are expended. The courts have spoken -- twice now -- and Moore has yet to prevail. He's not going to prevail. He's wrong." The paper predicted that Alabamians "...doubtless will hear a lot of grumbling about liberal federal judges from Moore's supporters.  That won't wash, and Alabamians should know it. The appellate court panel's vote was unanimous, and two of the three members, Ed Carnes and J.L.  Edmondsen, have long been known as conservative judges. Edmondson was appointed by President Ronald Reagan in 1986 and Carnes was appointed by President George H.W.  Bush in 1992." 9

Larry Darby, Alabama State Director for American Atheists, was pleased with the court ruling. He said: "The religion clauses in the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution dictate government neutrality in matters of religion, meaning the United States is a free nation, not a Jewish-Christian nation as Judge Moore contends...The 50-page document from the appellate court affirming the lower court decision points out that 'Chief Justice Moore's proffered definition of religion is inconsistent with the Supreme Court's because his presupposes a belief in God.'  That comment by the appellate court judges is particularly appropriate because the number of citizens who are atheists or otherwise living without religion in the U.S.  has been steadily growing in recent years.  Absolute separation between religion and government is the best way for the Federal and state governments to protect the rights of not only atheists, but also the rights of citizens professing non-Christian religions." 9

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2003-JUL-13: Results of public opinion poll: A small poll by the Mobile Register and the University of South Alabama showed that:

bullet77% of the public either approved or strongly approved of the monument.
bullet65% said that they would vote for him if he sought re-election as chief justice.
bullet50% said that they would disapprove if Moore defied a federal court order to remove the monument if his appeals fail; 40% would approve.
bulletN = 438; margin of error = 5%

In a statement, Judge Moore wrote: "This is not about polls; it's not about politics; it's not about religion. It is about the acknowledgment of God as the foundation of our moral law, under both the United States Constitution and the Constitution of Alabama, and the truth stated in the Preamble of our Alabama Constitution that, in order to establish justice, we must invoke the favor and guidance of Almighty God. A federal court has no jurisdiction to tell us that we can not acknowledge God."

Joe Conn, a spokesman for Americans United for Separation of Church and State, said that the poll results were more a measure of the subjects' religious views than "any well-thought-out stand on constitutional matters... I really think if some of these people walked into a public courthouse and saw a monument to a religion that wasn't theirs, they would feel like they were not going to get a fair hearing in that courthouse. It's a matter of putting yourself in another person's shoes." 10

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2003-JUL-22: Chief Justice Moore decides to appeal directly to the U.S. Supreme Court: Chief Justice Roy Moore has decided to not appeal the decision of the three-judge panel of the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals to the entire 19 judge court. Rather, he plans to personally petition the U.S. Supreme Court to review the case. His statement read, in part: "I will not delay by seeking further hearings before the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals...To prohibit the acknowledgment of God upon whom our justice system is established is to undermine our entire judicial system." 11

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2003-JUL-23: Congress votes to prevent removal of monument: In an unusual move, by a vote of 260 to 161, the House voted in favor of an amendment introduced by Rep. John Hostettler (R-IN) which would prevent the expenditure of federal funds to remove the monument. The amendment was attached to the Commerce, Justice, State and Judiciary spending bill. The legislation is now pending in the Senate.

Six of the seven representatives from Alabama voted in favor of the amendment. Rep. Artur Davis, (D-Birmingham), was the lone dissenter. He said: "I felt, frankly, that it was outrageous, in that it would prevent the U.S. Marshal's Office from carrying out a court order. In Alabama, unfortunately, we have a history of a governor 40 years ago who stood in the schoolhouse door in defiance of the federal courts. The last thing we should do is sanction not following a court order. It would set us back 40 years." Attorney Ayesha Khan of Americans United for Separation of Church and State, said that the amendment "shows profound disrespect for the Constitution. You'd think the House would have more pressing matters than subverting the Constitution." 12

It would seem that the 260 Representatives who voted in favor of the amendment were violating their oath of office, which commits them to supporting the Constitution.

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Related essays on this site

bulletA detailed analysis of the Ten Commandments
bulletRecent U.S. court rulings on separation of church and state
bulletThe Istook Constitutional Amendment: 1995-1996
bulletThe Istook Constitutional Amendment: 1997-1999
bulletPrayer in the public schools

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References:

  1. "Moore refused commandments order, says court violates 'Justice based on God': Atheists, Separationists Square-Off With Justice's Supporters At Rally,"
    AANews, 2002-DEC-20.
  2. "Alabama’s Chief Justice Declares Homosexuality 'A Sin,' Bases Custody Ruling Partly on Bible. Americans United Says Moore’s Church-State Views Echo Dark Ages," Americans United for Separation of Church and State, 2002-FEB-20, at: http://www.sodomylaws.org/
  3. Mark Niesse, "Chief Justice unveils Ten Commandments in [Alabama] Supreme Court building," Associated Press, at: http://news.findlaw.com/ap_stories/l 
  4. "Chief Justice Roy Moore Sued by ACLU," The Truth Newspaper, Inc., at: http://www.thetruthnewspaperinc.com/
  5. "Decision: Ten Commandments must be removed from Alabama courthouse," The Religion Newswriters Association, 2002-NOV, at: http://www.religionwriters.com/
  6. "Moore files appeal notice on order to remove Commandments monument," AANews, 2002-NOV-11.
  7. Robert Marus, "Appeals court says Moore's Ten Commandments must go," 2003-JUL-2, Associated Baptist Press, at: http://www.abpnews.com/
  8. Steve Visser, "Commandments monument ejected." Atlanta Journal-Constitution, 2003-JUL-2, at: http://www.ajc.com/
  9. "Moore pledges appeal," AANews, 2003-JUL-3.
  10. "Majority in survey back Moore's stand on Ten Commandments," Gadsden Times (AL), 2003-JUL-13, at: http://www.gadsdentimes.com/
  11. Anthony McCartney, "Moore to take monument case to highest court. Chief justice will skip hearing by full 11th Circuit Court," The Huntsville Times, 2003-JUL-22, at: http://www.al.com/news/
  12. "U.S. House bill would prevent removal of monument," Associated Press, at: http://www.heraldtribune.com/
  13. "Atheist director contacts Moore, asks for 'equal access' to commandments are of Alabama judicial building." AANEWS, 2001-AUG-31.

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Site navigation: Home page > Religious LawsTen Commandments > here

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Copyright © 2002to 2004 incl., by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Originally written: 2002-FEB-27
Latest update: 2004-AUG-08
Author: B.A. Robinson

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