Senate Hearing Gives 'Commandments' Judge National Platform

A Senate subcommittee in June gave renegade Alabama jurist Roy Moore a national platform to complain about alleged hostility toward religion in public life.

Moore testified June 8 before the Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on the Constitution, Civil Rights and Property Rights, chaired by Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas). He was among several witnesses who asserted that the American government is hostile to religious expression.

Americans United and other groups sued then-Chief Justice Moore after he arranged for the display of a two-and-a-half-ton Ten Commandments monument in the Alabama Judicial Building. Moore defied a federal court order to remove the monument and has since been removed from the court.

Addressing the subcommittee, Moore asserted that the federal courts have misconstrued the separation of church and state and defended his defiance of the courts.

"A judge's ruling is an opinion on the law, not the law itself," Moore insisted. "The opinion carries the weight of the law behind it only so long as it remains faithful to the text of the law. When a judge blatantly misinterprets the law or fails to interpret the law at all, his opinion is no longer clothed in the authority of the law. If this was not the case, unelected federal judges could replace the law on a whim through their own opinions."

Americans United criticized the Senate panel for inviting Moore. Barry W. Lynn, executive director of Americans United, charged that Moore "showed blatant and utter disrespect for the Constitution of the United States and the rule of law."

Added Lynn, "The ongoing attempts by some legislators to lionize Moore's lawbreaking is an embarrassment to the nation."

Lynn questioned the need for the hearing.

"Americans enjoy more religious freedom than any other people in history," he noted. "Many Americans, especially religious minorities, are wary of having religion foisted on them by government action and rightly so. The Religious Right equates hostility toward religion with any effort to maintain church-state separation. They don't understand that the wall of separation between church and state is what gives them and all other Americans the right to worship as they see fit."

Not all of the witnesses bashed the church-state wall. Speakers defending it included J. Brent Walker, executive director of the Baptist Joint Committee on Public Affairs, Melissa Rogers of Wake Forest University Divinity School and U.S. Rep. Chet Edwards (D-Texas).

Asserted Walker (a former Americans United trustee), "The religion clauses require government to accommodate religion without advancing it, protect religion without promoting it, lift burdens on the exercise of religion without extending religion an impermissible benefit. These twin pillars buttress the wall of separation that is critical to ensuring our religious liberty. The best thing government can do for religion is to leave it alone."

In other news about Moore:

A slate of candidates who sought public office in Alabama by associating themselves with Moore fared poorly in the June 1 Republican primary. Only one candidate, Tom Parker, Moore's former spokesman, was victorious, winning a narrow victory of 4,000 votes out of 210,000 cast. Parker is seeking a seat on the state Supreme Court and will face a Democratic opponent in November.

Three other Moore acolytes lost. Pam Baschab, also seeking a seat on the state high court, was defeated, as was Phillip Jauregui, a Moore attorney who challenged U.S. Rep. Spencer Bachus (R-Ala.) in the GOP primary. Both were soundly defeated.

A third Moore candidate, Jerry Stokes, ran for a seat on the Supreme Court. He captured only about 26 percent of the vote. His main opponent, Mike Bolin, won 49.98 percent, just shy of the 50 percent required by state law. Stokes could have forced a runoff but dropped out instead.