Thursday, November 13, 2003

Alabama Chief Justice Roy Moore, who won an overwhelming election three years ago to the state’s highest court, was stripped of his office yesterday by a state judicial panel because of his refusal to remove a Ten Commandments monument from the state courthouse rotunda.

The ruling, which was unanimous, was the harshest punishment possible for the judge.

“Anything short of removal would only serve to set up another confrontation that would ultimately bring us back to where we are today,” said the nine-member panel, which had the option of simply reprimanding the chief justice or continuing his suspension with pay that has been in effect since August.

The 5,280-pound monument was installed secretly by Chief Justice Moore in the summer of 2001. In November 2002, a district judge ordered the monument removed, which Chief Justice Moore refused to do by an Aug. 20 deadline, after losing appeals to the U.S. Supreme Court and the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals.

The Alabama Judiciary Inquiry Commission then suspended Chief Justice Moore, charging him with ethics violations. After a one-day trial on Wednesday, the nine-member judicial panel found that Chief Justice Moore “willfully and publicly” defied the federal order, placing himself above the law in doing so.

In return, Chief Justice Moore called his removal from the state Supreme Court a violation of the First Amendment.

“The law is the First Amendment,” he told Fox News. “[Which says] Congress should make no law respecting the establishment of religion or prohibit the free exercise thereof. … The word ‘religion’ recognizes a divine creator and a higher law. … When a judicial body comes in and says since you acknowledge God, you cannot hold office. They are telling us what we must think.

“Now we are faced with a public official who exercises his rights under the First Amendment and exercises his freedom of conscience to believe and acknowledge God … and now he cannot hold office.”

Reaction was swift. Americans United for Separation of Church and State, which helped fund legal opposition to Chief Justice Moore, hailed the removal of the “renegade jurist.”

“Moore flagrantly announced his intention to violate a federal court order, made a mockery of the legal system and created an unseemly media circus,” said the group’s president, Barry Lynn. “Today, he learned the results of that defiance.”

Tony Perkins, president of the Family Research Council, called the decision “judicial activism.”

“The courts treat us as court jesters but we don’t want to dance to their tyrannical tune,” he said.

“They are targeting religious freedom, school prayer, the phrase ‘under God’ in the Pledge of Allegiance and now the removal of the Ten Commandments. Justice Moore was a duly elected official and he was challenging the ruling of an unelected official that was questionable at best and an outright affront to the Alabama constitution at worst.”

The official was U.S. District Judge Myron Thompson of Montgomery who a year ago ordered the monument removed, ruling that it constituted government endorsement of religion.

Now stripped of his office, the former chief justice said he would consult with his attorneys to try to overturn the decision.

The Rev. D. James Kennedy, founder of Coral Ridge Ministries in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., which filmed the monument’s installation two years ago, then gave away the tapes to raise money for Mr. Moore’s legal fund, called the ouster “tragic.”

“It indicates how far we as a country have drifted from the godly foundation that was given to us by the Founders,” he said. “The ultimate issue at stake here is whether it is possible for a judge to refer to or mention God in a courtroom and these judges decided it was not. Our laws were built on the Ten Commandments so this is a sad departure from the rule of law.”

Mr. Moore may win in the end, Mr. Kennedy predicted.

“They may persecute him into the White House,” he said. “I think he’s a modern hero. How many men today would put their livelihood, reputation, profession, education and conceivably his freedom on the line because of strong moral convictions?”

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