- The Washington Times - Monday, August 25, 2003

Removing a Ten Commandments monument from the state Judicial Building in Montgomery, Ala., would violate citizens’ First Amendment rights, lawyers said in a federal lawsuit filed yesterday.

U.S. District Judge Myron Thompson has ordered the monument removed from the building’s rotunda, but Alabama Supreme Court Chief Justice Roy Moore has refused and is waging a battle to keep it. He was suspended Friday, and the monument could be removed as early as today.

Supporters of the Ten Commandments display, who yesterday continued their vigil outside the Judicial Building, have pledged civil disobedience if officials try to remove the 4-foot-high stone monument.

Protesters might lock arms to protect the monument, said Bob Jewitt, spokesman for the Christian Defense Coalition and the National Clergy Council. He said if the monument is removed, protesters will occupy the building wearing Ten Commandments T-shirts.

Brian Chavez-Ochoa, one of two lawyers who filed yesterday’s suit in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Alabama, said removing the monument would show government’s preference for secularism over Judeo-Christian beliefs.

“They’re favoring one religion over another,” said Mr. Chavez-Ochoa. The lawyer said this is a different argument than Justice Moore’s defense of the monument as an acknowledgement of God’s sovereignty.

In his lawsuit on behalf of a Mobile Christian radio host and an Alabama pastor, Mr. Chavez-Ochoa also stipulates that if the monument is removed, it should be replaced immediately while the lawsuit is pending. U.S. District Judge William Steele set a hearing tomorrow on the lawsuit.

Barry Lynn, executive director of Americans United for Separation of Church and State — one of the groups that sued to have the monument removed — said this newest lawsuit is destined to fail.

“Over and over again, Moore’s supporters have offered up outlandish legal arguments to defend the justice’s blatant promotion of religion in the state’s Judicial Building,” Mr. Lynn said. “This lawsuit repeats those same losing arguments.”

One Republican lawyer from Alabama, who asked not to be named, said Attorney General Bill Pryor would move immediately to dismiss the new lawsuit by Mr. Chavez-Ochoa. Mr. Pryor has said that court orders must be obeyed, whether or not he agrees with them.

Judge Thompson ruled that displays on government property cannot promote or be affiliated with a religion. The 11th Circuit Court of Appeals upheld Judge Thompson’s order to remove the monument, and the U.S. Supreme Court last week denied a last-minute plea from Chief Justice Moore to block its removal. The other eight justices on the Alabama Supreme Court also overruled Chief Justice Moore last week and ordered the monument removed.

But supporters were undeterred yesterday.

“We see the First Amendment to protect religious liberty, not crush religious liberty,” said Patrick Mahoney, director of the Christian Defense Coalition.

And Chief Justice Moore yesterday said that the fight isn’t over. He plans to petition the U.S. Supreme Court to hear his full case, and will fight his suspension as well.

He said he is being suspended “not because I’ve done anything wrong,” but because “I’ve kept my oath. … I have acknowledged God as the moral foundation of our law.”

Mr. Jewitt estimated there were about 1,000 Ten Commandments supporters at the Judicial Building and that about 200 people, including himself, spent Sunday night there. They plan on continuing their daily prayer vigils through Aug. 30, no matter what happens to the monument, he said.

This article is based in part on wire-service reports.

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