The former chief justice of the Alabama Supreme Court, Roy Moore, had good intentions when he placed a Ten Commandments monument in the state judicial building. Now that the monument has been removed to a closet and Moore has been removed from office, we should consider the lessons we can learn.

For me, this issue raises two questions: Why should our country memorialize the nation's religious heritage? and How should we ensure that this happens?

To begin, let's consider the religious memorials of two public buildings. The U.S. Supreme Court building is an inspiring neoclassical structure. Above the columns on its eastern exterior is a pediment with several carved figures. The central and largest figure is a seated Moses, flanked by Confucius and Solon. Upon Moses' legs rest two tablets representing the Ten Commandments. Inside the courtroom, the Ten Commandments are given even greater prominence, featured both above the justices' bench and on a lower panel of the chamber's oak doors. Also within the courtroom are two carved marble friezes displaying a procession of 18 lawgivers, including Solomon, Mohammed, and Augustus Caesar.

The rotunda of the Alabama judicial building during Moore's term held a 5,280-pound granite monument of the Ten Commandments, inscribed with 14 quotations, mostly about God's transcendence in civil society.

Both these public memorials were intended to aid citizens in recalling religion's—and specifically, Judeo-Christian religions'—contributions to our history. We are reminded of this in other ways as well, including national holidays like Christmas and Thanksgiving, mottos like "under God" and "In God We Trust," and hundreds of place names, from Providence to Philadelphia to Corpus Christi to New Canaan. ...

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April 2004

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