ATLANTA, Georgia (AP) -- A federal appeals court ruled Tuesday that a Ten Commandments monument the size of a washing machine must be removed from the Alabama Supreme Court building.
The 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals unanimously affirmed a ruling by a federal judge who said that the 2 1/2-ton granite monument, placed there by Alabama Chief Justice Roy Moore, violates the constitutional separation of church and state.
Moore has made his career in recent years on this issue. He first came to national prominence as a darling of the religious right in 2000 when he defied orders to remove a smaller display from his courtroom in Gadsden, Alabama. Later that year he was elected Chief Justice of the Alabama Supreme Court on platform of little more than continuing to annoy secularists and break the law he is sworn to uphold by continuing to maintain his display.
But merely displaying them wasn’t enough for Moore. Eight months after taking office Moore had his granite monument placed in the lobby of the State Judicial Building in the debt of night. A number of Alabamans and national organizations such as Americans United for Separation of Church and State sued. Moore lost, and appealed, and has now lost again.
In its opinion today, the court rejected Moore’s assertion that government acknowledgements of religion have a long history in America. “Chief Justice Moore has pointed to no evidence that the Ten Commandments in any form were publicly displayed in any state or federal courthouse, much less that the practice of displaying them was widespread at the time the Bill of Rights was proposed and adopted,” declared the court.
The court also soundly rejected Moore’s contention that as chief judicial officer of Alabama, he is not bound by federal court rulings, comparing it to “the same position taken by those southern governors who attempted to defy federal court orders during an earlier era.”
No doubt he will defy the order and appeal to the Supremes. It is, after all, probably what he has wanted all along. He’s taking a gamble. Despite encouragement from religious right groups that hope to get a court decision that will roll back a century or so of church-state separation, he faces a few serious hurdles. There is no guarantee that the Supremes will rule in his favor or even agree to hear the case. And there is no guarantee that the people of Alabama will endless bankroll his appeals. Alabama is just as bankrupt as everybody else this year.
I also suspect his act might be getting a little old. He began this silliness when the economy was booming and he was able to parlay this season’s celebrity into a high position. A lot has changed since then. Does he ever spend any time doing his job as a Chief Justice? Do all Chief Justices have the right to bypass the usual committees, planning boards, and permit processes to plop monuments wherever they want and entangle their states in expensive legal suits?
Of course, whether to back down might not be Moore’s decision anymore. Beyond it’s significance as a church-state issue the case has implications for the Senate battle over judicial nominations. Bill Pryor, Bush’s nominee for the 11th Federal Circuit Court, and the current Attorney General of Alabama, has been an enthusiastic champion of Moore’s case. Powerful forces in his party have interests of their own in this case. It will be interesting to see where it all goes next.