More than the fate of a 5,280-pound granite Decalogue weighs on an appeals court as it decides whether the exhibit violates the Constitution, but the ramifications of the ruling could be “staggering,” in the words of one of the jurists.
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reports Ed Carnes, one of three judges sitting for the Atlanta-based 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, predicted if the Decalogue is allowed to stay in the
rotunda of the Alabama Judicial Building then courtroom walls could be adorned with taxpayer-funded murals of the life of Christ and the Crucifixion, or block-letter signs asking,
“What would Jesus do?”
Carnes made his point during arguments yesterday in the case of a lawsuit against Alabama Supreme Court Chief Justice Roy Moore, who installed the giant granite cube on August 1, 2001.
Moore didn’t consult with the other justices about the monument, which was paid for by private money.
As WorldNetDaily reported, Moore maintains the monument depicts the “moral foundations of law” and reflects the “sovereignty of God over the affairs of men.”
The top of Moore’s washing machine-sized monument is engraved with the Ten Commandments as excerpted from the Book of Exodus in the King James Bible. The sides of the monument bear quotations from the Declaration of Independence and smaller quotations from James Madison, William Blackstone, James Wilson, Thomas Jefferson, George Washington and John Jay. Also included in the engravings is the National Motto, “In God We Trust,” and quotations
excerpted from the 1954 Pledge of Allegiance and the Preamble to the Alabama Constitution. The front of the monument references the Declaration of Independence with the statement,”Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God.”
Three Alabaman attorneys, backed by the Southern Poverty Law Center, Americans United for Separation of Church and State and the American Civil Liberties Union, found the monument offensive and complained it made them feel like “outsiders.”
Last November, U. S. District Court Judge Myron Thompson found the monument – nicknamed “Roy’s Rock” – violates the Establishment Clause in the First Amendment of the Constitution,
which provides that “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion.”
“Both in appearance and in stated purpose, the Chief Justice’s Ten Commandments monument is … nothing less than ‘an obtrusive year-round religious display’ … to place the
government’s weight behind an obvious effort to proselytize on behalf of a particular religion,” wrote
Thompson in his opinion, and ordered Moore to remove the Decalogue.
The order was put on hold pending the outcome of Moore’s appeal to the 11th Circuit.
“Federal district courts have no jurisdiction or authority to prohibit the acknowledgment of God that is specifically recognized in the Constitution of Alabama,” Moore said in a statement
announcing the appeal.
“Anytime you deny the acknowledgement of God you are undermining the entire basis for which
our country exists,” Moore told the New American. “Rights come from God, not from government. If government can give you rights, government can take them away from you. If God gives you rights, no man and no government can take them away from you. That was the premise of the organic law of this country, which is the
Declaration of Independence. Because, if there is no God, then man’s power is the controlling aspect, and therefore power will be centralized,” he said.
Herb Titus, a law professor who is representing Moore, argued U.S. history and law is steeped with references to God and that the First Amendment prohibits laws respecting an establishment of religion, not religious symbols.
According to the Journal-Constitution, conservative jurist Carnes, who was appointed by the former President George H.W. Bush, rebutted that U.S. Supreme Court precedent runs contrary to his argument and the court has ruled certain religious symbols do violate the Constitution if they are on public grounds.
Christian Coalition of Alabama Chairman John Giles, who attended the hearing, relayed to CNSNews.com that the jurists grilled Titus on the state’s role in religion. Much of the discussion
centered on the so-called Lemon Test which courts have used since U.S. Supreme Court Chief Justice Warren Burger’s application of it in 1971 to determine violations of the First Amendment’s Establishment Clause.
The test evaluates whether a government practice endorses religion or represents excessive entanglement of the government with religion.
Chief Judge J.L. Edmondson, who was appointed by President Reagan, reportedly told Titus the Lemon Test must be applied to cases unless the U.S. Supreme Court creates a different standard.
Edmondson questioned whether the three Alabama attorneys who sued Moore had legal standing.
Ayesha Khan, an attorney for Americans United for the Separation of Church and State, argued on behalf of the attorneys there is ample precedent from the U.S. Supreme Court to satisfy any concerns about legal standing, according to the Journal-Constitution.
Despite this line of questioning, another courtroom observer told CNSNews.com the plaintiffs appear to be in a favorable position.
“We’re being overrun by theocrats these days, and it’s tough to fight every battle,” Larry Darby, director of the Alabama chapter of American Atheists told the news agency. “Judge Moore wants us to head more toward a theocracy, which is in effect undermining our constitutional republic form of
Moore became known as the “Ten Commandments Judge” after posting a wooden, hand-carved plaque of the Ten Commandments in his courtroom while a state court judge in Gadsden, Ala. He also was known to invite clergy to lead prayer in his courtroom before trials.
The Civil Liberties Union of Alabama and the state of Alabama sued Moore in 1995 over his actions. Both suits were dismissed.
He then mounted and won by a landslide margin an election to the Alabama Supreme Court on Nov. 7, 2000. Moore viewed the election as a mandate from the people to “restore the moral foundation of law.”
Moore, who told the Montgomery Advertiser the case has drained him mentally and physically, showed no sign of diminished resolve following the hearing.
“People had better wake up as to what’s happening in our country,” Moore told reporters outside the court following the hearing. “This case is about whether the state can acknowledge God.
And I hope everybody gets that,” he added.
The 11th Circuit Court is expected to rule by the end of the year. Both sides have promised to appeal to the Supreme Court if they lose.
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