Judge Roy Moore, elected last year as chief justice of Alabama's Supreme Court, recently fulfilled a controversial campaign promise to keep the Ten Commandments in his courtroom.
In August, Moore unveiled a 5,280-pound granite monument in the rotunda of the state judicial building.
The memorial, paid for with private funds, includes the Ten Commandments and 14 quotations from Presidents Washington, Jefferson, and Madison.
Moore says he displays the Ten Commandments in judicial buildings because they are the foundation for America's legal system.
"It is required that this nation acknowledge God's law as its foundation, because both the Constitution and Bill of Rights enshrine those principles," he says.
Moore's displaying the Ten Commandments on a wooden plaque in a northeastern county courtroom gained him national attention. It also paved the way for his campaign for higher office.
Moore's actions have angered civil libertarians and won praise from conservative Christians. Stuart Roth, southeast religion counsel for the American Center for Law and Justice, says the monument is consistent with the Founding Fathers' commitment to religious freedom. "The Ten Commandments, whether people like it or not, are one of the cornerstones of the moral and ethical and legal codes of the world," Roth says.
The Civil Liberties Union of Alabama and Americans United for the Separation of Church and State have asked Moore to remove the monument. "It's clear to me the monument is there to promote a particular religious viewpoint—Judge Roy Moore's religious viewpoint," says Bob Varley of the Civil Liberties Union of Alabama. "The Supreme Court does not belong to Judge Roy Moore. It does belong to the people of Alabama, all the people of Alabama."
Americans United for the Separation of Church and State, the American Civil Liberties Union, and the Southern Poverty Law Center (based in Montgomery) filed federal lawsuits in October challenging the display.
Some African American lawmakers have objected to the monument. Led by Alvin Holmes, more than 20 black legislators tried to enter the Judicial Building to place a memorial featuring Martin Luther King Jr.'s "I Have a Dream" speech. Courthouse personnel locked them out.
The move brought back difficult memories. "This looks just like the stunt Gov. George Wallace pulled when he stood in the schoolhouse door," said an editorial in The Anniston Star. (Judge Moore was not at the courthouse at the time.)
Holmes does not believe the issue is racial. "I support the Ten Commandments," he says.
"But if [Moore is] going to have quotes from slave owners, then we think we should have one of Martin Luther King's speech, which talks about equality for all."
Moore met recently with lawmakers who want a King monument in the courthouse.
According to a recent opinion poll, 77 percent of respondents approved of the Ten Commandments monument. Some political observers speculate that the Republican judge will parlay his popularity into a run for governor next year.
But Bill Stewart, professor emeritus of political science at the University of Alabama, says such talk is premature. "If he did run, it would look like he's moving from one post to another, and he would seem too ambitious or opportunistic," Stewart says." He needs to establish himself as chief justice."
William C. Singleton III in Birmingham
Copyright © 2001 Christianity Today. Click for reprint information.
In 1997,CT's sister publication Christian Reader published an interview with Judge Roy Moore, "Are the Ten Commandments Unconstitutional?"
Earlier this year, Christianity Todaycolumnist Stephen L. Carter wrote that debates on the Ten Commandments expose our culture's ultimate rift.
Christianity Today's previous coverage of Ten Commandment controversies includes:
Ten Commandments Case Turned Down | Denial means Indiana town's Decalogue display is unconstitutional. (July 9, 2001)
Ten-Commandments Judge Aims for High Post | After taking on the ACLU, Moore is now a nominee for the Alabama Supreme Court. (Aug. 1, 2000)
Hang Ten? | Thou shalt avoid Ten Commandments tokenism. (Mar. 3, 2000)
Ten Commandments Judge Cleared | Roy Moore's integrity confirmed regarding legal fund. (Oct. 25, 1999)
House Upholds Display of Ten Commandments | Spurred by recent fatal shootings in public schools, the House of Representatives voted to permit the display of the Ten Commandments. (April 9, 1999)
Ten Commandments Judge Looking for Federal Fight | Does Judge Roy Moore's courtroom display defy separation of church and state? (Dec. 12, 1997)
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