- The Washington Times - Tuesday, June 8, 2004

Roy Moore, the former Alabama Supreme Court chief justice who lost his job for defying a federal court order to remove a Ten Commandments monument from his courthouse, told a Senate panel yesterday that judges are squelching religious freedom and should be stopped.

“We have the federal courts coming into our states telling us we cannot acknowledge God,” Mr. Moore told the Senate Judiciary Committee’s subcommittee on the Constitution, civil rights and property rights. “They have no right. … It’s outside the federal jurisdiction.”

He urged Congress to act on a Senate bill, sponsored by Sen. Richard C. Shelby, Alabama Republican, that would strip from the Supreme Court and district courts of any jurisdiction over cases against federal, state or local government officers for acknowledging God as the sovereign source of law, liberty or government.

Several scholars and members of the public agreed with Mr. Moore that religious expression is being threatened across the country by activist groups and judges that agree with them.

“The hostility is real,” said Kelly Shackelford, chief counsel for Liberty Legal Institute told the subcommittee. “There’s a pervasive atmosphere out there that’s been created to ban or stop religion in public.”

The Liberty Legal Institute stepped in when a group of citizens at a seniors center in Balch Springs, Texas, were told by city officials in August 2003 that they couldn’t sing religious hymns or pray over their food because they were in a public building. After months of legal wrangling, the city backed down.

Mr. Shackelford cited other cases, including schoolchildren being prohibited from passing out candy or cards with religious messages on them, public school districts barring administrators from sending their children to Christian schools, and religious seminaries being punished for not getting state approval of their board and curriculum.

Mr. Moore said there is confusion over the Constitution, and that public acknowledgements of God, like displaying the Ten Commandments, do not violate the First Amendment because they don’t establish a state religion and they don’t force people to do anything.

“Ten Commandments displays and similar acknowledgments of God do not in any fashion represent the setting up of a state-sponsored church, nor does it in any way lend government aid to one faith over another,” he said.

But J. Brent Walker, executive director of the Baptist Joint Committee on Public Affairs, said the Constitution calls for government neutrality on religion to protect religious freedom. He said while public officials can express their faith, Mr. Moore “crossed constitutional boundaries” by singling out one religion and creating a shrine.

Rep. Chet Edwards, Texas Democrat, told the panel that if politicians and public officials are allowed to entangle themselves publicly with religion, it could lead to religious minorities’ rights being violated and churches facing government regulations.

Democrats said the Republicans who called yesterday’s hearing were going overboard.

“I do not think there is such widespread hostility,” said Sen. Russell D. Feingold, Wisconsin Democrat, who said the First Amendment “is alive and well in our country, as is religion.”

But others said the issue is far too real.

Barney Clark, one of the seniors who was told he couldn’t sing gospel songs or pray in the Texas seniors center, said he fought for rights like these as a World War II veteran and now has had to do so in America.

“More people need to stand for their rights here in this country,” he said.

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