- The Washington Times - Thursday, January 10, 2002

MONTGOMERY, Ala. —The battle lines are clearly drawn here.Roy Moore, once known as the "Ten Commandments judge" and now chief justice of the Alabama State Supreme Court, is being sued again by the American Civil Liberties Union, this time for plunking a 5,280-pound, 4-foot-high granite monument in the rotunda of the state judiciary building.
The monument has the Ten Commandments inscribed on it, as well as quotes from George Mason, Thomas Jefferson, George Washington and excerpts from the Alabama Constitution and the national anthem. The privately funded monument was erected on July 31.
A group of black lawmakers, incensed by the religious display, stormed the rotunda on Aug. 28 with a 6-foot plaque inscribed with excerpts of Martin Luther King's "I Have a Dream" speech. Court officials blocked them from entering.
To mollify the lawmakers, Judge Moore hung a smaller plaque in the rotunda containing a quotation from Martin Luther King and one from Frederick Douglass acknowledging God as the source of justice and law.
"The judiciary [branch of government] is supposed to always maintain its appearance of impartiality," said Robert Varley, one of the ACLU attorneys who filed the lawsuit.
"In our opinion, the monument is sending the message out that this is a religious courtroom, this is in fact a Christian courthouse and if nothing else, Christians would be favored in the eyes of the law here. And we think that that's an inappropriate message."
The lawsuit, filed on Oct. 30 by the ACLU in conjunction with Americans United for Separation of Church and State, maintains that the monument's display of the Ten Commandments is an unconstitutional establishment of religion in a government building.
The judiciary rotunda ordinarily is as quiet as a cathedral. Except for the occasional researcher at the adjacent law library, few visitors venture there.
Judge Moore's chambers are far more cluttered, with several copies of the Ten Commandments on the walls, an open Bible and family photos on his desk, next to "a Ten Commandments desk clock." On the wall behind him hangs a large painting of Abraham Lincoln and a print of scales with a Scripture underneath.
"[The Ten Commandments] represents the moral foundation of our law," says Judge Moore, 54. "And the Alabama Constitution says we are to invoke God's favor and guidance to establish justice. My job is the administration of justice in this state."
Judge Moore has been fighting this and similar battles for 10 years, ever since 1992 when, as a circuit court judge in Etowah County, he first displayed a plaque of the Ten Commandments on his courtroom walls. The ACLU sued him in 1995, but the case was thrown out on procedural grounds. Both sides agreed that a ruling never was made on the merits of the case.
"It's been a long battle," he says. "I have been in federal courts, state courts. I have spoken on this issue from the east, the west, the north and the south. I have learned that throughout that there's a great lack of understanding of the First Amendment, a complete misunderstanding of the separation of church and state. People need to learn more about their constitution and about their rights under the First Amendment."
The stakes were raised after Judge Moore swept to victory a year ago November. When he was sworn into office two months later, he pledged to "restore and preserve the moral foundation of the law."
His opponents, however, say the prominent display of a Ten Commandments monument in the rotunda of the Supreme Court building sends a much more sectarian message.
"The Ten Commandments are clearly sectarian," said Mr. Varley. "They apply to the Judeo-Christian traditions only. And that leaves out a tremendous number of religions in this country."
He said: "You have a 21/2-ton monument to the Ten Commandments sitting alone by itself roped off in a situation where it has been made clear by the Supreme Court justice that he is not going to allow anything else to be hung around there."
Steve Melchior of Cheyenne, Wyo., the lead attorney for Judge Moore, disagrees.
"There's a moral law which the state is powerless to alter," he says. "You want justice? How can you have justice if you don't acknowledge the basis of all law?
"[This case is about] left-wing powerhouses that are fighting to extricate any public acknowledgment of God," he says. "If they remove God from the picture, they remove accountability. That's why this [case] is such a biggie.
"What [Judge Moore] has done is no different than what we have been doing in this nation since its very inception publicly acknowledging God," Mr. Melchior says.
Every branch of the federal government publicly acknowledges God on a daily basis, he adds, citing as examples the congressional chaplains on the taxpayers' payroll, the presidential oath sworn on a Holy Bible and the Ten Commandments displayed on the gates of the U.S. Supreme Court chambers.
Mr. Varley responds that the U.S. Supreme Court has always maintained that the public display of the Ten Commandments is not unconstitutional in a historical context, on display with other laws.
Scott Benen, spokesman for the Washington-based Americans United for Separation of Church and State, calls Mr. Melchior's and Mr. Moore's interpretation of the First Amendment "creative."
"If all the framers wanted to do was ban a national church, they had plenty of opportunities to state exactly that in the First Amendment," he says. "The historical record indicates that the framers wanted the First Amendment to ban not only establishment of a single church but also "multiple establishments," that is, a system by which the government assists many religions on an equal basis."
Mr. Melchior responds that even the First Amendment was not intended to outlaw public acknowledgment of God.
State legislators may end up deciding on the matter before the courts do. A proposed bill would enable Alabama citizens to vote on the posting of the Ten Commandments on public property within the state.
Sen. Gerald Dial, Lineville Democrat, introduced such a bill last year in the Alabama state Senate, and Rep. DuWayne Bridges, Valley Republican, introduced a similar bill in the House. The bill passed 32-0 in the Senate, but died by a committee voice vote before reaching the House floor. It will be reintroduced this year with additional co-sponsors.
"Now we're for the Ten Commandments," says Sen. Albert Lipscomb, Magnolia Springs Republican, "and I want you to report that."
The lawsuit has been consolidated with similar charges brought by the Southern Poverty Law Center. Mr. Moore's attorneys filed their answer on Dec. 28 before U.S. District Court Judge Myron Thompson for the Middle District of Alabama.

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