- The Washington Times - Friday, August 29, 2003

Contemplate the image of poor old Justice Roy Moore with his 5,000-pound Ten Commandments on his shoulders coming slowly, hesitantly down a mountain, and then tripping and falling, the monument squashing him as smooth as slate rock. The sound you hear is a roar of laughter. The sophisticates are loving every minute of it.

Heaven knows, the Alabama chief justice calculated badly. He refused to listen to a federal court’s instructions to remove the massive object from the Alabama Judicial Building, and he should have known better. For that matter, he should have figured out he was going to be in trouble two years ago when he had it installed, seeing as how higher courts mostly don’t like that sort of thing.

But Justice Moore seems to have done something many of the sophisticates apparently have not done. He seems to have read the Constitution, including the beginning words of the First Amendment, which say that “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.” The meaning essentially is this: Authorities should not set up a state religion or get in the way of belief.

What might a state religion look like?

We don’t have to go all the way back to European experience to know. We merely need go back to when the colony of Virginia gave the power of taxation and other authority and obligations to vestries of Anglican churches, simultaneously harassing religions such as Baptists and Presbyterians. Marriages performed by clergy of those “dissenting” faiths were not officially recognized, for instance. You might think your bedmate was a spouse. The state thought you were living in sin. The issue would be more than one of sexual morality when inheritance time rolled around.

Let’s suppose that the Moore-bashing sophisticates do understand the First Amendment and also get it that a state religion is one that is granted prerogatives denied other faiths. Is it their contention, then, that the Ten Commandments display would somehow have exercised some strange power over those who happened to notice it, imposing on them a faith they would rather not have or depriving them of their rights if their own faith or lack therefore did not recognize the commandments as divine? If it is, theirs is a superstition not to be taken seriously.

The sophisticates, of course, may take the stance that the real meaning of the First Amendment is something more in line with certain court rulings, namely to prohibit the promotion of a specific faith. Justice Moore, by his public utterances, may seem to have admitted that this is just what he was up to; he apparently saw the monument as a statement of God’s supremacy in the universe.

There are, however, counterpoints here, too: Justice Moore was not being narrowly sectarian; disallowing any mention of God is itself to take a theological stance, and the Ten Commandments have a deep cultural significance, as even the irreligious must recognize. The commandments represent a tie to an ancient society from which we in the West received a goodly portion of our sense of justice.

I have read the opinions of a number of sophisticated writers about all of this and found that several make little or no effort to hide their contempt of those who support Justice Moore. The attitude is clearly that these supporters are very stupid people. The sophisticates seem to live in fear of these “stupid” people somehow taking over the country. The sophisticates thereby again show that they are not really all that sophisticated. Glance once or twice at what’s happening in the popular culture, and you will notice that true believers are not making a huge dent in things American.

Justice Moore should have listened to the federal court. Our legal system depends on that sort of respect, and he should have understood as much. But he has lately seemed less the demagogue some say he is than someone willing to sacrifice himself for his views. The monument has been moved to a less conspicuous position, and Justice Moore has been suspended and faces ethics charges. He has lost and could be further flattened. Funny? Not really. If there is an absurdity here, it lies in thinking the monument’s presence signaled something desperately amiss in the land.

Jay Ambrose is a nationally syndicated columnist.

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