'Commandments Judge' Resurfaces On Capitol Hill

Like an annoying ditty one can't erase from the mind, 'Ten Commandments Judge' Roy Moore continues surfacing in public forums to air his strident anti-First Amendment views.

Late yesterday for the second time in recent months, the former Alabama Supreme Court chief justice appeared before a congressional committee to tout a court-stripping bill he helped write, dubbed the "Constitution Restoration Act of 2004." The bill would strip the federal courts of their power to find government acknowledgments of religion a violation of the First Amendment. The measure also threatens judges who do consider such cases with impeachment.

Moore, who was kicked off the Alabama Supreme Court in 2002 for refusing to follow a federal court order to remove a Ten Commandments monument from public display in the state's Judicial Building, offered his usual overwrought arguments in favor of the bill, H.R. 3799.

"For over 50 years, the federal courts have steadily eroded our first freedom, the freedom of conscience, and have attempted to replace the Godly foundation upon which this country was built with a foundation that espouses the philosophy of secular humanism, demanding people's ultimate allegiance to the state rather than God," Moore told the House Judiciary subcommittee.

As is his wont, Moore blasted "anti-religious zealots" for spurring the federal courts to strip God from the public square. He also claimed that the Founding Fathers would take great offense federal court decisions that have barred school-sponsored prayer from classrooms, especially in light of all the federal government agencies and state governments that have in some form acknowledged God.

"You see, we're erasing our history right under your noses in this Congress, right under your watchful eye," Moore told the House panel.

Joining Moore's call for the court-stripping measure, H.R. 3799, was former Republican Congressman William Dannemeyer who lambasted the federal courts as out-of-control and lauded Christian right activist David Barton as one of the nation's foremost scholars on church-state separation. Barton is head of a Texas-based Christian Right group that argues for "the restoration of the constitutional, moral, and religious foundation on which America was built."

The subcommittee did hear testimony from two professors who said the bill is an affront to the separation of powers that is detailed in the Constitution.

"This bill is a transparent attempt to diminish if not eliminate the status of certain constitutional decisions of Article III courts [federal courts] as constitutional law, to weaken the independence of the federal judiciary, and to subject certain constitutional claims and claimants to disparate treatment," said Michael J. Gerhardt, a professor at the William & Mary law school.

Arthur D. Hellman, a professor at the University of Pittsburgh law school, urged the subcommittee to reject the H.R. 3799, saying it would unjustly denying Americans access to federal courts.

"Ours is a pluralistic nation, closely divided on many issues," Hellman said. "Depending on the time and the circumstances, anyone can be part of a minority. The availability of an independent federal court, with power to hear everyone's constitutional claims, is a source of reassurance to all."

Chairman Lamar Smith, R-Texas, sided with the arguments presented by Moore, but scheduled no vote on the bill. The Associated Press reported that "virtually no chance" for passage of the measure exists this year.

In June, the Senate Subcommittee on the Constitution heard from Moore during a hearing on alleged hostility toward religion in the public square.