Appellate Judges Seem Skeptical Of Arguments For Ten Commandments

Americans United Legal Director Ayesha N. Khan told a federal appeals court June 4 that Alabama Chief Justice Roy Moore has no constitutional authority to display the Ten Commandments at the Judicial Building in Montgomery.

The 40-minute oral argument before the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals was the latest development in a lawsuit Americans United brought against Moore last year in an effort to force him to remove the religious sculpture from the courthouse. Moore's 5,280-pound granite display clearly violates the Constitution and legal precedent and must be removed, Khan advised the three-judge panel.

Moore's attorney, Herb Titus, a former dean at TV preacher Pat Robertson's law school, argued that Moore has the right to adorn the court building as he sees fit. Newspapers in the area reported that the federal appellate judges seemed skeptical of Titus' assertion.

According to the Montgomery Advertiser, Judge Ed Carnes said to Titus, "I'm trying to understand your argument. Its implications are staggering. If we buy this argument, the chief justice can decorate the courthouse in any religious manner he pleases and it won't violate the Constitution?"

Continued Carnes, "He could decorate the Supreme Court with a mural depicting the life, crucifixion and resurrection of Christ? In big, block letters behind his bench, for all the lawyers and everyone else to see, he could spell out 'What would Jesus do?' That doesn't violate the Constitution?"

Titus argued those actions would not violate the Constitution, as they would not amount to a law "respecting an establishment of religion." (Alabama Attorney General Bill Pryor appointed Titus and two other lawyers as assistant attorneys general to represent Moore and the state in the pending litigation.)

The Atlanta Journal & Constitution reported that Judge J.L. Edmondson "appeared more sympathetic" to Titus' argument, but even he warned the attorney that he faced "very tough" hurdles.

"I'm optimistic," said AU's Khan after the argument. "The attorneys for Moore made clear that he seeks to establish Christianity as the official religion of this country. That's a dangerous and divisive agenda and it must be stopped."

Khan added that if the court applies existing precedent, Americans United, which brought the Glassroth v. Moore legal challenge along with the American Civil Liberties Union of Alabama and the Southern Poverty Law Center, will win easily.