Ten Commandment Showdown

Fri Aug. 22, 2003 3:00 AM EDT


The massive stone Ten Commandments remained standing on Thursday in the Alabama Judicial Building, despite the Alabama Supreme Court order that Chief Justice Roy Moore remove them.

The Supreme Court ruling required the 5,300-pound granite monument to be removed by Thursday. Although the monument was briefly hidden from public view with some pieces of plywood, it ultimately remained standing, as the deadline passed. Despite the fact that a federal judge ruled that housing the Commandments within a government building violated a constitutional ban, Moore has pledged to keep them in place.

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On Wednesday 21 protestors surrounded the monument -- which has come to be known as "Roy's holy rock" -- and practiced some good old civil disobedience by refusing to leave the premises. All 21 were arrested, including a reverend.

As extreme as the whole brouhaha may seem, the Washington Post reminds us that Moore's fiasco is nothing new. Two years ago Moore, his construction crew, and some evangelical videographers, erected the monument in the dead of night. The videographers from Coral Ridge Ministries have since sold copies of the videotape to raise funds for Moore's legal expenses. Justice Moore argues that the presence of the monument is testimony to Alabama's "right to acknowledge God." But the Post's editorial board thinks his motivations may be more political than Moore claims.

"Roy Moore has been riding the Ten Commandments as a campaign issue since he first struck out for judicial office. And left to his own devices, he intends to ride the Decalogue as far as his appeals to emotions and lust for power will take him.

Mr. Moore managed to get his name on the map -- and his face in the news -- when he was an Alabama circuit court judge. He took the decidedly un-judicial route of defying a court order to remove a hand-carved, wooden plaque of the Ten Commandments from behind the bench in his courtroom. Flushed with the attention and acclaim he won for that stunt and depicting himself as the 'Ten Commandments Judge' and a defender of Alabama against moral decline, Mr. Moore advanced his political career in 2000 by winning an election for the chief justice post.

Mr. Moore's decision to deliberately link his theology to the justice dispensed by the Alabama judiciary, to thumb his nose at the First Amendment prohibition against state establishment of religion, and then to go before an Alabama crowd of thousands and tell them that he will continue to defy a federal court order, recalls the worst days of Alabama Gov. George Wallace's defiance of federal desegregation decrees and is an affront to the rule of law. "

While Moore plays hide-and-go-seek with the Supreme Court, the debt-ridden state of Alabama will be footing the bill. A U.S. District Judge has promised to charge the state $5,000 a day as long as Roy's rock remains in the Alabama Judicial Building. We'll see how much Moore and his supporters are willing to bleed taxpayers before they relocate Roy's holy rock.

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