A federal appeals court ruled unanimously today that Alabama Supreme Court Chief Justice Roy Moore may not display the Ten Commandments in the lobby of the state Judicial Building.
Americans United for Separation of Church and State, which initiated legal action against Moore on behalf of local plaintiffs, hailed the ruling.
"This is a clear message from the courts: Thou shalt not merge church and state," said Americans United Legal Director Ayesha Khan, who argued the case in the courts. "Justice Moore is fighting a losing battle, and it's time for him to stop wasting Alabama taxpayers' money on this case."
Moore became a hero to the Religious Right when, as a state court judge in Gadsden, Ala., he posted the Ten Commandment in his courtroom. Moore used his fame to win election as Alabama chief justice in November of 2000. He erected the Ten Commandments monument in the Judicial Building on the evening of July 31, 2001 and officially unveiled it the next day.
Acting on behalf of Alabama residents, Americans United, the ACLU and the Southern Poverty Law Center filed suit against Moore in 2002. On Nov. 18, 2002, U.S. District Judge Myron Thompson ruled in the Glassroth v. Moore case that Moore's actions had violated church-state separation.
Moore appealed to the 11 th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, which heard oral arguments in the case last month.
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."
The court made it clear that it expects Moore to abide by its decision. "The rule of law does require that every person obey judicial orders when all available means of appealing them have been exhausted," wrote the court. "The chief justice of a state supreme court, of all people, should be expected to abide by that principle. We do expect that if he is unable to have the district court's order overturned through the usual appellate process, when the time comes Chief Justice Moore will obey that order. If necessary, the court order will be enforced. The rule of law will prevail."
The Rev. Barry W. Lynn, executive director of Americans United, hailed the decision.
"This is a slam dunk for our side," said Lynn. "The court dismissed every argument Moore and his attorneys raised, one by one, and made it clear that defiance on his part will not be tolerated. This is a total defeat for Moore."
Americans United for Separation of Church and State is a religious liberty watchdog group based in Washington, D.C. Founded in 1947, the organization educates Americans about the importance of church-state separation in safeguarding religious freedom.
Americans United is a religious liberty watchdog group based in Washington, D.C. Founded in 1947, the organization educates Americans about the importance of church-state separation in safeguarding religious freedom.