- The Washington Times - Wednesday, August 27, 2003

Evangelical Christians are divided over whether Alabama Supreme Court Chief Justice Roy Moore’s 5,280-pound granite monument bearing a replica of the Ten Commandments should remain in the rotunda of the Alabama Judicial Building.

Those questioning the monument include televangelist Pat Robertson; Jay Sekulow, the chief counsel for the American Center for Law and Justice; and Richard Land, president of the Southern Baptist Convention’s Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission.

Proponents include James Dobson, founder of Focus on the Family, who wondered aloud during his Monday radio program “if Dr. Land and Jay Sekulow are supportive of the American Revolution, where we rebelled against the British tyranny.”

Chief Justice Moore is also supported by the Family Research Council.

At least 100 of Chief Justice Moore’s supporters are camped out in front of the state judicial building, hoping to block officials from removing the monument.

Chief Justice Moore’s eight associate justices on the Alabama Supreme Court overruled him last week and ordered the monument removed. One of the pro-Ten Commandments demonstrators labeled Associate Justice Gorman Houston a “Judas,” provoking a sharp response in the Montgomery Advertiser from Justice Houston’s pastor.

On Friday, Chief Justice Moore was suspended with pay pending an ethics inquiry by the state’s Judicial Inquiry Commission. A unanimous vote of the state Court of the Judiciary, a nine-member panel, could remove him from office.

The issue has inflamed evangelical Christian sentiment on both sides. Christianity Today, a magazine that caters to evangelicals, has dozens of articles for and against the defiant judge posted on its “Ten Commandments weblog” at its www.christianitytoday.com Web site.

Neither Christianity Today nor World magazine, an Asheville, N.C., publication geared toward evangelicals, took sides on the issue, although World did say Chief Justice Moore “deserves credit for putting himself in the line of fire.”

Students at the evangelical Patrick Henry College in Purcellville, Va., are split down the middle over the matter, said Government Department Chairman Robert Stacey. Some of the Christians involved in the debate are “grandstanding” on the issue for personal gain, he said.

“What’s more important is that we restore the Ten Commandments as the foundation of the law rather than have a monument somewhere that people can ignore as they walk by,” he said.

But on Monday, Mr. Dobson suggested Christians travel to Montgomery, Ala., the site of the confrontation, and join in prayer rallies and vigils outside the judicial building.

“Be a participant,” he said. “Don’t sit on the sidelines while our basic freedoms are lost.”

Demonstrators have vowed to block removal of the monument, which remains in the rotunda until state officials figure out a way to remove it. A hearing set for today will hear the merits of a last-ditch lawsuit filed Monday in federal court in Mobile that says removing the monument violates the constitutional guarantee of freedom of religion.

Mr. Land told Baptist Press Monday that sitting judges, such as Chief Justice Moore, should comply with the law as interpreted by higher courts.

“Do evangelical Christians really want to say that this United States government is no longer a legitimate government and that we are no longer obligated to obey its courts when we disagree with their rulings?” he asked. “If so, let us understand it for what it is. It is insurrection. I want to reform this government, not rebel against it as an illegitimate government beyond repair.”

Mr. Land repeated his support for the public display of the Ten Commandments in public buildings, but said Christians must not “support defiance of the law by officials sworn to uphold the law.” If they must defy the law, they should resign, he said.

Other evangelicals, who say they personally admire the defiant judge, call his legal strategy faulty.

“I would have recommended to keep the monument in place through a [judicial] stay and litigate this thing all the way to the Supreme Court of the United States,” Mr. Sekulow said Monday on his radio program “Jay Sekulow Live.”

Chief Justice Moore’s attorneys did apply for a stay, Mr. Sekulow said, but only after the deadline had expired. “I’ve racked my brain thinking of other legal things that could be done, but short of a miracle at this point, that monument is going to have to go.”

On the same show, Mr. Robertson said Chief Justice Moore “didn’t frame this case in a way that was more calculated to win.” He said Chief Justice Moore should have pointed out to the courts that the Ten Commandments are posted in the U.S. Supreme Court and in the House of Representatives, then asked how the Alabama monument differed.

“Then the Supreme Court would have had to deal with it,” Mr. Robertson said. “As it is, he’s faced with an impossible situation and … he’s put himself in contempt of court.”

David Lowenthal, a First Amendment scholar who formerly taught political science at Boston College, says Christians unsympathetic to Chief Justice Moore do not understand constitutional law.

“One of the things that has dismayed me is that many churches have not spoken out on the matter,” said Mr. Lowenthal, who is Jewish. “Churches have been fed a dogma over the past 50 years that the First Amendment calls for a wall between church and state. But it does not.”

“Belief in God is fundamental to the American political system,” he said. “It’s not just a religious thing, it’s fundamental politically. The monument was done not to plug the Jewish religion — where the Ten Commandments come from — but to emphasize the commandments themselves and belief in God. The Declaration of Independence, our most fundamental political document, has four mentions of God.”

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