In April President Bush nominated Alabama Attorney General Bill Pryor for a seat on the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals. Since then Pryor, 41, an outspoken opponent of abortion, has found himself under attack from the left and the right.

Democrats on the Senate Judiciary Committee in June sharply questioned Pryor about whether he could set aside his deeply held religious beliefs and apply the law fairly. Although Pryor, a staunch Roman Catholic, said he could, Senate Democrats set up a filibuster to deny him a vote for confirmation in the Republican-controlled Senate.

Although agreeing with Alabama Chief Justice Roy Moore that Moore's 5,280-pound Ten Commandments monument could legally remain in the state judicial building, in August, following a ruling by the same 11th Circuit Court of Appeals, Pryor ordered it removed from public view. Some defenders of the monument lashed out at Pryor, calling for his resignation. Moore, meanwhile, was suspended from his office for disobeying a judge's order.

Stan Guthrie, Christianity Today's associate news editor, interviewed Pryor.

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Why didn't you support Judge Moore on the Ten Commandments controversy?

I have long supported displays of the Ten Commandments as a source of our laws. I have explained on many occasions that I think the Ten Commandments are the cornerstone of our legal heritage and can be displayed constitutionally, as they are in the U.S. Supreme Court building. When the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled against Chief Justice Moore and the case came back to the district court and an injunction was issued without any kind of stay of that injunction, it is my position that whether we agree with that order or not, as public officials, we have an obligation to follow the court orders.

As a Christian I know from 1 Peter and Romans 13 that we have an obligation to obey governing authorities. We have an obligation as Christ taught us to give unto Caesar what is Caesar's and unto God what is God's. And I think that as a public official, I have an obligation to follow a court order, even when I disagree with that order.

Now there can be occasions when disobedience is appropriate for a Christian. If you are ordered to do something as an individual that is immoral, then you may have an obligation as a Christian to disobey that law. But that does not apply to a public official. If you are a public official and you are being ordered by law to do something that you believe is immoral, then you should resign from office.

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There have been arguments here recently that Dr. [Martin Luther] King's case for civil disobedience was somehow applicable. That's not true. Dr. King argued persuasively that black citizens in the Deep South did not have recourse other than civil disobedience to change an immoral and unjust system. They were not able to vote. They were not able to assemble and speak freely in the political arena. And he argued that as a result of the racist system of government that existed in the Deep South, black citizens had no choice but to engage in civil disobedience. None of that has been applicable to what has been going on here in Montgomery.

Your critics have said that you might not be able to overcome your closely held religious beliefs while serving as a judge. Would your actions in this case provide any answer to that?

I've been attorney general for almost seven years now, and I believe that my consistent record in office shows that I follow the law, whether I agree with it or not. That is my obligation as attorney general—to uphold and enforce the law.

Your stance regarding the Ten Commandments made you unpopular in some quarters. There have been rumors that you received some death threats. Is that right?

I'd rather not comment about that. But I would say a lot of Alabamians have been very supportive of me. As I move around the state, a lot of people come up to me and say very encouraging and supportive things. I've stood twice for election as attorney general. I was first appointed to the office several years ago and then elected, and then re-elected last year. I had the highest percentage of any statewide candidate. And I think what people have seen from my public service over those several years is that I will uphold and enforce the law as honestly and straight down the middle as I can.

There have been occasions when that has meant I would prosecute members of my own political party, the Republican Party, or members of the opposite party, where I have in election redistricting disputes. In some occasions I've agreed with Republicans; some occasions, I've agreed with Democrats. Those are just examples of what I think has been my obligation to uphold and enforce the law fairly and impartially.

Are you still on good terms with Judge Moore?

I have not spoken with him. He has been charged by the judicial inquiry commission with violations of the canons of judicial ethics. And it is the responsibility of my office to prosecute those charges. And he is not able to perform the duties of his office while these charges are pending. So, it would really not be appropriate for me to be talking with Chief Justice Moore.

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You have taken a number of quite bold stands on a number of social issues. You've called Roe v. Wade "the worst abomination." Do you stand by that, and what did you mean?

I said that it was the worst abomination of constitutional law in our history. And what I meant was that the decision in Roe v. Wade is unsupported by the text and structure of the Constitution. And it has led to a morally wrong result. It has led to the slaughter of millions of innocent unborn children.

You also said that the Supreme Court had created a constitutional right to murder an unborn child. Do you also stand by that statement?

I do.

Some critics have taken issue not only with your stand but how you've said certain things, that you've been more blunt and outspoken—and some would even say flippant—about how you've stated your position, and it's rubbed a lot of people the wrong way. Do you feel like perhaps you should tone it down? Or do you feel that you're just speaking your mind?

I'm an elected attorney general. I have an obligation not only to be the lawyer for the people of Alabama and their state government, but when I run for election, I have an obligation to share with the voters of my state the values that I believe in and uphold. And I have tried to be candid with the people of my state, and I think I have fulfilled my duty to share with them my values and my perspective of the law.

Your position on states' rights has drawn some concern in some quarters. In the past, some people have used "states' rights" arguments to resist civil rights advances. Where do you stand?

I, first of all, rarely, if ever, use the term states' rights. I believe that a central feature of our Constitution is federalism, which means that the founding fathers created a federal government with strong powers to represent our interest in foreign affairs, national security, and in promoting the free flow of interstate commerce.

Following the Civil War, the federal government was given a role in protecting civil rights from abuses by the states. I support the proper role of the federal government, but there is left to the states a broad authority to deal with most matters of public policy.

On several occasions, I have advanced that perspective in cases before the Supreme Court of the United States. I've been very successful in advancing that perspective. In three major cases of federalism, my office won important decisions from the Supreme Court of the United States. In some other cases, we have filed friend-of-the-court briefs in major federalism cases. And we're on the winning side of those cases.

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But I'm not one who believes in no role for the federal government. I believe in federalism. I share James Madison's perspective that we need a balance of power. And there's clearly a proper role for the federal government.

[On September 8] I filed a friend-of-the-court brief with the Supreme Court of the United States in a case involving a student who sued the state of Washington who was denied a college scholarship [from the state] because he was going to pursue a major in theology. The state of Washington is making an argument about their state's rights and their federalism. And the briefs that I filed explained that federalism, properly understood, protects individual liberty, and this student was being discriminated against in violation of the First Amendment, that he was being discriminated against based on his religious beliefs. I sided with the student against the state.

My office filed a friend-of-the-court brief in the Supreme Court in recent years in "The Good News Club" case, where an elementary school Bible club wanted to meet on school property after school hours but was discriminated against by the New York public school system. And we sided with the student club in that case. So there are many instances where I have represented the interest of individual liberty against abuses of civil rights by state governments, just as I would [in] abuses of federal power.

What is your position on race relations and civil rights?

Alabama's had a tragic history of racism and discrimination, and I'm proud that we've overcome a lot of that tragic history. I'm an admirer of Dr. King, and have, I believe, been a champion of causes for racial fairness in Alabama.

Against the interest of my own political party, I sided with the NAACP in defending majority black districts in our state legislature. I helped lead the campaign for the repeal of our state constitution's ban on interracial marriage. Some of the most prominent black leaders of the state I would refer you to, to ask them what they think of my record. Representative Alvin Holmes, who's been the leader of the black caucus in our state legislature; Dr. Joe Reed, who's the chairman of the Alabama Democratic Conference—they can attest to my record on race relations.

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How would you evaluate race relations in Alabama right now?

This is not heaven, so there's always work to be done to make things better. But they're dramatically improved from where they were when Dr. King was leading the Montgomery bus boycott in the 1950s or when he was leading a march from Selma to Montgomery for voting rights in the 1960s.

And what do you attribute that to?

I attribute it to the fact that people of faith came into the public square and shared their faith about the immorality of our systems and our laws in Alabama. And they were able to change it and to change the nation. I attribute it to Congress fulfilling its responsibility in passing the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965. I attribute it to a lot of courageous federal judges who in the 1950s and `60s implemented Brown v. Board of Education in the Deep South and fulfilled the guarantee of equal protection under the 14th Amendment.

One of those judges, John Minor Wisdom, who was on the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans, I had the privilege to clerk for after law school. He was among some Eisenhower appointees who had that responsibility, and they did that with great courage.

I attribute it to a lot of things, all of those things. But today in Alabama, we have more elected black officials than any other state in the country. And I think that's a sign of our progress in racial relations.

What role do you think a judge's personal religious beliefs should play in his or her decision making?

I think a judge in the American system of government has an obligation to uphold and enforce the law fairly and impartially—period. That's what the role of a judge is.

But, obviously, each person comes to a job with certain core values and beliefs. Do you feel there's an intersection between one's responsibilities and values, or do you keep the two spheres completely separate?

As attorney general, I take an oath and I have sworn to uphold the Constitution and laws of my state and nation. That oath is, of course, informed by my religious faith. I don't view that as a conflict. I think, as a result of my faith, that I take my oath very seriously.

You took a public stand in support of Governor Bob Riley's plan to raise taxes, which voters shot down by a 2-1 margin this month. Why?

I have made it very clear that I support his plan from the perspective of being the chief law enforcement officer of the state. I'm not an expert about all components of this plan. But our state prison system, our crime labs, our department of public safety, and other components of the criminal justice system are underfunded. In fact, they're in a worse state of funding than in any state in the United States. And if we hope to have an effective system of criminal justice or restorative justice, we have to fund this system adequately.

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Have you been active in any of the Prison Fellowship programs in the prisons?

I have been extremely active with Prison Fellowship. In fact, I received their Guardian of Religious Freedom award [in 1999]. I've been to the faith-based facility they have in Texas with their officials. I have worked with them on a number of projects.

The task that I've been working on more than perhaps any other in my last few years as attorney general has been to reform our sentencing system, to adopt a system of sentencing that is more consistent with what Prison Fellowship supports, and that is a system of restorative justice.

We created a sentencing commission in Alabama that my office drafted the legislation to create, and we passed some sentencing reform legislation. That has been one of my main reasons for supporting Governor Riley's tax package. If we hope to accomplish meaningful sentencing reform in Alabama, we're not only going to have to change our sentencing policies, we're going to have to fund our sentencing system at a higher level.

Judge Moore, you, and Governor Riley are three very high profile Christians who are taking very public stands on a number of issues based on your Christian beliefs. Why do you think this is happening in one state, in one period of time? Is there something in the water in Alabama that's causing you all to be so outspoken and in the limelight?

Alabama is a conservative state and a state where the people take their religious faith seriously. It is not surprising to me that public officials in Alabama will sometimes communicate with the voters of Alabama in language that is familiar to people of faith. That's an effective way to communicate with the people of this state. It's a language that they understand and appreciate.

Related Elsewhere

Pryor has recently been profiled by World magazine and other publications.