Alabama Chief Justice Roy Moore loses Ten Commandments case
It's not whether the Ten Commandments are posted in a courthouse that matters, U.S. District Judge Myron Thompson ruled yesterday in an eagerly awaited decision. It's how they're posted.
"The court does not hold that it is improper in all instances to display the Ten Commandments in government buildings; nor does the court hold that the Ten Commandments are not important, if not one of the most important, sources of American law," Thompson wrote (PDF | Word | WordPerfect). "Rather the court's limited holding … is that the Chief Justice's actions and intentions in this case crossed the Establishment Clause line between the permissible and the impermissible."
The evidence that the line was crossed is overwhelming, Thompson's very readable ruling says. "No other Ten Commandments display represents such an extreme case of religious acknowledgment, endorsement and even proselytization. In other words, if there is a Ten Commandments display tradition in this country, it is definitely not the tradition embodied by the chief justice's monument."
Moore's 5,300-pound granite display, which he brought into the judicial building secretly after he was named chief justice, "is nothing less than an obtrusive year-round religious display installed … in order to place the government's weight behind an obvious effort to proselytize on behalf of a particular religion, the Chief Justice's religion," Thompson said. "The only way to miss the religious or nonsecular appearance of the monument would be to walk through the Alabama State Judicial Building with one's eyes closed."
Moore didn't even bother to hide his religious intent, Thompson wrote: "The Ten Commandments monument, as the Chief Justice made clear both at the unveiling ceremony and at trial, is a granite reminder to Alabama judges and justices and all other state citizens of the ultimate sovereignty of the Judeo-Christian God over both the state and the church, and of how all men and women should, therefore, look to God as the ultimate source of the moral foundation of all the laws of this country; for, it was God, and not man or the state, that gave us the Ten Commandments."
Such a view of God and state is a fine belief for a person, Thompson ruled, stressing that he doesn't disagree with it. But it's problematic to say, "as a matter of American law, the Judeo-Christian God must be recognized as sovereign over the state, or even that the state may adopt that view. … In fact, this country's founding documents support the idea that it is from the people, and not God, that the state draws its powers."
Reaction yesterday came mainly from Moore's opponents. "It offends me going to work every day and coming face to face with that symbol, which says to me that the state endorses Judge Moore's version of the Judeo-Christian God above all others," said Stephen R. Glassroth, the Jewish Montgomery lawyer who brought the suit.
The usual activists had their statements, too. "Although I am elated by today's decision, I remain deeply concerned about the future of the separation of religion and government in this country," said C. Welton Gaddy, executive director of the Interfaith Alliance. "Isn't religious liberty in real trouble when we have to commend a court's decision to uphold a bedrock provision of the United States Constitution?"
"This ruling is a big setback for Roy Moore's religious crusade," said Americans United for the Separation of Church and State president Barry Lynn Promoting the Ten Commandments is a task for our houses of worship, not government officials."
The New York Times joins in, saying the problem isn't Moore—it's Alabama. "In Alabama, there is no underestimating the popularity of religion—and defiance. While fundamentalists in Kansas lost their battle for creationism, and supporters of organized school prayer were defeated in Texas, evangelical Christians still set the agenda here. This is the state, after all, where high school science books have stickers on them saying evolution is just a theory."
Conservative activists were livid about the decision. Dean Young, executive director of the Alabama-based Christian Family Association, said the ruling was just another example of "a liberal federal judge standing up and saying we can't acknowledge God in our courtrooms." He apparently didn't read the decision, or he just wanted to sound angry at the expense of also sounding ignorant.
Christian Coalition of Alabama president John Giles toned it down a little. "We had high hopes that the judge, after hearing the merits of the case, would be a strict constructionist," he told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. "He is seriously eroding our First Amendment rights and the moral foundation of the U.S. Constitution."
Moore and his lawyers didn't have much comment yesterday. Expect them to say more in a 10:30 press conference / rally today. But Moore's lead attorney did have a few things to say yesterday: "The opinion issued today demonstrates how confused our federal courts have become with regard to not only American history but also in regard to fundamental principles of constitutional interpretation," Stephen Melchior said. "The judge uses the term religion 97 times in the opinion and the term religious 50 times, but goes on to talk about how it's dangerous to define the term religion. I can't imagine the appellate court buying such interesting logic."
Moore's attorneys have also promised to appeal the decision. Thompson's decision, Melchior told The Washington Post, "is empty in so many respects. This is just the first gate. No sense in getting alarmed."
Local coverage is available from The Birmingham News, The Montgomery Advertiser, and The Troy Messenger.
"Would Would Jesus Drive" campaign:
- A group links fuel economy to religion | A broad coalition of religious groups is preparing a campaign linking fuel efficiency to morality, asking: "What Would Jesus Drive?" (The New York Times)
- Jesus drove a civic | Why it's un-Christian to own an SUV (Michelle Cottle, The New Republic)
Missions and ministries:
- Church backs raves to bring in young people | Against a backdrop of declining churchgoing among children and teenagers, the General Synod supported a new "national youth strategy" and a new fund designed to encourage greater participation by the under-30s (The Telegraph, London)
- Self-improvement for the soul | Joyce Meyer, described by one fan as "the 'Dr. Phil' of the Christianity world," urges followers to take concrete steps to better their lives (The Seattle Times)
- The Word according to Garth | Drabinsky working with company making videos on books of the Bible (The Globe and Mail, Toronto)
- Scripture as Script | "The Gospel of John" is just that: actor Brad Sherrill performing a word-for-word reading of a complete book of the New Testament. (The Washington Post)
- Tiny book with powerful message catapults Oregon publisher to national prominence | Multnomah's 50,000-square-foot office building, scheduled to open in 2004, will be the house that Jabez built (Seattle Post-Intelligencer)
- 'Prayer of Jabez' triggers avalanche of blessings (Seattle Post-Intelligencer)
- Afraid you'll be left behind? | Though he writes from a Catholic perspective, Paul Thigpen, an ex-Pentecostal and former editor of Charisma magazine, takes care to demonstrate in The Rapture Trap how none of the leaders of the Reformation believed in the Rapture (Rod Dreher, National Review Online)
- Christian writers put faith into romance novels | Readers of Christian romance novels generally know what's not in them—bodice-ripping, heavy-breathing sex, told in erotic detail (KRT)
- Oliver North novel mixes faith, pulp thrills | Mission Compromised, written by Iran-Contra figure Oliver North, is published by Broadman & Holman, an arm of the nation's largest Protestant denomination (The Orlando Sentinel)
- Brave new world for scholarship | The market for serious nonfiction has probably never been better, and the most fluent writers among academics find themselves in demand to provide expert and accessible commentary on the knottiest problems of these complicated times. In perhaps no other category is that more true than in religion, a subject area that has recently seen vigorous publishing activity (Publishers Weekly)
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