Judge Moore's Religious Crusade In Alabama

On Sept. 8, eight foreign aid workers, all of whom are Christian, stood trial in Afghanistan for illegally preaching to Muslims. The accused faced 18 turbaned judges led by one of the Taliban's top mullahs, who announced to those in attendance that their legal system is based on Islam and is therefore without flaw.

In that Kabul courtroom, the defendants might have noticed several items located behind the judges, including a framed prayer mat and the names Allah and Muhammad written in ornate Arabic script. Considering their surroundings, the Christian defendants probably had serious doubts about whether they would receive a fair, unbiased trial.

Eight days earlier and half a world away, Alabama Supreme Court Chief Justice Roy Moore was honoring a different religious tradition by unveiling a 5,280-pound Ten Commandments monument in the rotunda of the state judicial building.

To be sure, Moore and his Religious Right supporters are not the moral equivalent of the Taliban. There are, however, disturbing similarities in their philosophies.

In Afghanistan, political leaders govern according to the dictates of their faith. The line between religion and government is non-existent; the institutions are inextricably united so the state can venerate its official deity.

Moore's approach is analogous in many ways. The jurist believes Christian religious law serves as the basis for secular law, and the prior must trump the latter. Consider his words when unveiling his religious display: "May this day mark the beginning of the restoration of the moral foundation of law to our people and a return to the knowledge of God in our land."

While this affirmation was Moore's, it could have just as easily have come from an imam upon the Taliban's takeover of Afghanistan in the 1990s.

As recent world events have revealed so plainly, governing in the name of religious faith is dangerous. The United States has always avoided these kinds of divisive religious conflicts by honoring church-state separation and ensuring that all Americans may follow their own consciences on matters of theology.

One need not speculate about Moore's motivation for placing a religious monument in the judicial building. His motive, promoting religion, was freely acknowledged. As he explained at the monolith's unveiling, its purpose is to remind people "that in order to establish justice we must invoke the favor and guidance of Almighty God."

Moore's approach to government would correspond comfortably to a theocracy. Alabama, however, is still a part of the United States. By constitutional mandate, Americans are still free to make up their own minds about religion without interference from the government.

Those seeking justice in a Taliban courtroom have every reason to question the integrity of the system. Americans who enter the Alabama Judicial Building, regardless of their religious beliefs (or nonbelief), must not be given the impression that justice is reserved for those who agree with the religion of the state's chief justice.

A lawsuit challenging Judge Moore's actions has been filed. For the sake of religious freedom, we hope it succeeds.