Judge to Fight Commandments Ruling
Judge to Fight Commandments Ruling
Nov. 20, 2002
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MONTGOMERY, Ala. (AP) _ Alabama's chief justice stood Tuesday in front of a monument to the Ten Commandments and promised to fight a federal order to remove it from the state's judicial building.
``I have no plans to remove the monument, and when I do I will let you know personally,'' Chief Justice Roy Moore told reporters at a news conference.
U.S. District Judge Myron Thompson ruled Monday that the 5,300-pound granite monument is unconstitutional because it goes too far in promoting religion in a government building. He gave Moore, who installed the monument last year, 30 days to remove it at his own expense.
Moore questioned whether any federal court can order Alabama's top judge to do anything, but attorneys who sued for the monument's removal said his defiance would be futile and could cost taxpayers money.
Morris Dees, lead counsel and co-founder of the Southern Poverty Law Center, called Moore a ``religious demagogue'' and compared him to George Wallace. The former Alabama governor defended racial segregation in 1963 with his ``stand in the schoolhouse door,'' in which he tried to prevent two blacks from enrolling at the University of Alabama.
``Like George Wallace, he might bluster and stand in the door, but he'll step aside when the federal marshals come,'' Dees said.
When asked if he would stand in the door to prevent removal of the monument, Moore said he was not a Wallace and that he had not decided what actions he might take.
Not all Ten Commandment displays in government buildings are illegal, Thompson said in his ruling. But the ``religious air'' of Moore's monument, in which the commandments are written on two tablets sitting atop a granite block, crosses the line, Thompson said.
Moore, a conservative Christian, said he plans to appeal the order. He said the monument must remain because it acknowledges the moral foundation of American law.
``I expected such a ruling from the federal court,'' Moore said. ``There is great confusion in the federal courts on this issue.''
Moore said Thompson's ruling illustrated that confusion by saying it was dangerous to try to define the word ``religion.''
``If the court can't define religion, it has no business telling the people of Alabama what they can do, or can't do, in regards to God,'' Moore said.
The Southern Poverty Law Center joined the American Civil Liberties Union and Americans United for Separation of Church and State to file the lawsuit on behalf of three Alabama lawyers who claimed the monument violated the Constitution's ban on government establishment of religion.
The chief justice testified during the trial that he installed the monument, which also includes historical quotations, partly because of his concern that the country has suffered a moral decline over the past 40 or 50 years as a result of federal court rulings, including those against prayer in public schools.
Ayesha Khan, legal director for Americans United, said Moore's fight could become expensive for Alabama taxpayers. She said the plaintiffs plan to ask Thompson to order Moore to pay attorneys' fees, a bill she said she expects will be passed on to taxpayers.
Attorneys' fees already have run into the hundreds of thousands of dollars, and will grow further if appeals continue, Khan said.
One of Moore's attorneys, Phillip Jauregui, said Moore's legal bills are being paid by the chief justice and his supporters, and added that legal fees to defend the lawsuit will not be passed on to taxpayers.