Ten Commandments Judge" Roy Moore's best shot at getting back his job as chief justice of the Alabama Supreme Court evaporated abruptly April 30 thanks to a 35-page legal opinion.
A specially appointed panel of retired Alabama judges had been formed to consider Moore's appeal. The panel deliberated the matter for a few months but seemed to have no difficulty reaching a conclusion. The unanimous ruling slammed the legal door on Moore and marked yet another losing round in his crusade to base American law on his view of the Christian religion.
"Two federal courts have concluded that this case is not about a public official's right to acknowledge God, as Chief Justice Moore contends," declared the court. "Rather, this case is about a public official who took an oath to uphold the Constitution of the United States and then refused to obey a valid order of a United States District Court holding that the placement of the monument in the Judicial Building violated the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment to the United States Constitution."
The ad hoc Supreme Court declared that the Alabama Court of Judiciary, which yanked Moore from office for his refusal to follow a federal judge's order that a hulking Commandments monument be removed from the rotunda of the State Judicial Building, was on solid ground in doing so.
The special court's opinion noted that Moore violated an array of judicial ethical canons by refusing to obey the federal court order.
An angry Moore quickly blasted back, calling the court "illegally appointed" and "politically selected."
A statement on Moore's website, www.morallaw.org, argued that the Court of Judiciary's decision was flawed because it had failed to recognize that Moore's obstinacy was justified.
"This is about the Acknowledgment of God and many judges can't admit they are wrong and that they can enter unlawful orders," Moore's statement reads. "The rule of law is the written law and it is clear. The people of Alabama have a right to acknowledge God and no judge or group of judges has the right to take it from them."
The special Supreme Court panel was not impressed by arguments like this.
"As we held in Part I of this opinion, the Court of Judiciary had before it clear and convincing evidence that Chief Justice Moore violated Canons 1, 2A, and 2B of the Canons of Judicial Ethics, as charged in the complaint filed by the Judicial Inquiry Commission, by willfully refusing to obey a lawful and binding order of a federal court," the justices wrote in Roy S. Moore v. Judicial Inquiry Commission of the State of Alabama. "In fact, the evidence of Chief Justice Moore's violations of the Canons of Judicial Ethics was sufficiently strong and convincing that the Court of the Judiciary could hardly have done otherwise than to impose the penalty of removal from office. We find that the sanction imposed was proper and that it is supported by the evidence of record."
For good measure, or simply to tweak the self-righteous Moore, Justice Harry J. Witters, Jr., one of the seven retired justices that made up the special panel, wrote a concurring opinion listing seven Bible passages that advise obeying the law. Among those Witters listed was Titus 3:1-2: "Remind them to be submissive to the government and the authorities, to obey them, and to be ready for any honorable form of work; to slander no one, not to pick quarrels, to show forbearance and a gentle disposition towards all men."
Americans United for Separation of Church and State, one of three groups that sued Moore in federal court over his Commandments display, lauded the ruling by Alabama's special Supreme Court.
"It's just too bad that Moore has dragged the state of Alabama through this long, costly and embarrassing ordeal," said Barry W. Lynn, Americans United executive director. "I'm glad it's over, and I'm sure many citizens of Alabama are glad as well. As Donald Trump might put it, 'Roy Moore, you're fired!'"
Although Moore had told an Alabama newspaper earlier this year that he would appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court if he lost at the state level, he is apparently still mulling over his options. No statement had been issued as Church & State went to press.
Legal experts say the odds of the U.S. Supreme Court accepting Moore's case range from slim to none. Since he won't be getting his old job back, Moore is going to need something else to do.
Moore clearly has other projects in the pipeline. Recently, he joined forces with U.S. Rep. Robert Aderholdt (R-Ala.) and U.S. Sen. Richard Shelby (R-Ala.) to introduce legislation that would allow government officials to acknowledge religion wherever and whenever they see fit.
Moore helped draft the bill, dubbed the "Constitution Restoration Act," and on his website calls it "THE MOST IMPORTANT legislation in our lifetime."
The measure would bar the courts from preventing government acknowledgment or sponsorship of religion – for starters. It would go on to nullify all court rulings, including the one involving Moore's display, that deal with government acknowledgments "of God as the sovereign source of law, liberty, or government." The law would essentially prohibit courts from hearing challenges to school prayer laws, government display of religious symbols and many other church-state issues.
In late April, Moore stormed the halls of Congress seeking promises from lawmakers to hold hearings this session on his bill, H.R. 3799 in the House and S. 2082 in the Senate.
"Congress has every right, indeed every duty, to regulate that jurisdiction in conformity with the Constitution," Moore told the Associated Press. "That's all we're asking – to stop this runaway judiciary."
According to the AP, Moore was able to pry a promise from House Judiciary Committee Chairman James Sensenbrenner (R-Wis.) for a hearing, and a spokeswoman for the Senate Judiciary Chairman Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) said Hatch was considering a hearing as well because of the chairman's concern over a "runaway judiciary."
AU's Lynn told reporters that Moore's proposal is intended to "literally overturn 50 years of church-state decisions by federal courts" and that Congress should forgo giving it any consideration.
Besides urging Congress to pass his proposals, Moore has offered that body a gift: his two-and-a-half-ton Commandments monument. "Roy's rock," as it was dubbed by many Alabamians, is currently locked in a storage closet at the Alabama high court, but Moore would like to put it on a flatbed truck and ship it to the nation's capital.
Some members of Congress love the idea. Shelby told the Birmingham Post-Herald that he is in the midst of gathering information on the procedure for placing the monument in the rotunda of the Capitol.
Along with lobbying Congress, Moore has been using his free time to hit the Religious Right lecture circuit. His high-profile crusade to undermine the First Amendment principle of church-state separation may not be making much headway in the courts and Congress, but it has provided fuel for the Religious Right's drive to merge church and state in America. Moore has quickly become their martyr of the moment.
In early April, a group called the Ten Commandments Texas Rally presided over a gathering in Dallas that, according to a Plano newspaper, drew 5,000 people from seven states. Glenda Wilson, co-coordinator of the event, said the purpose was to "educate people on how to reclaim our godly Constitution." Moore and former right-wing presidential candidate Alan Keyes spoke at the event. The sponsoring group's website, www.texasrally.us, describes its mission as to "clearly unite God's people to 'stand up' for Biblical Orthodox principles upon which this country was founded."
Some political pundits, however, have suggested that Moore is contemplating a run for the presidency as a candidate for the far-right Constitution Party.
During a recent talk at the University of Massachusetts, Moore acknowledged that he has spoken at recent state conventions of the Constitution Party, but he also noted that he has spoken at Republican events as well. Moore's observation was prompted by a question regarding his potential candidacy.
"Sir, I'm not running for anything and I'm not running away either," Moore said.
According to a May 4 salon.com article by Frederick Clarkson, who researches the Religious Right, Moore has spoken at Constitution Party conventions in Oregon, Montana, Pennsylvania, Nevada and Ohio.
The party is heavily influenced by Christian Reconstructionism, a movement that seeks to bring America under "biblical law."
In late April, the AP reported that some Moore supporters are eager to have him on the ballot. The article noted that Moore remains coy but has kept speculation alive by refusing to say if he intends to support President George W. Bush in November.
Moore and many of his supporters are angry that Bush did nothing to help the judge in his Commandments battle. Adding insult to injury, the president named Alabama Attorney General William Pryor to a federal appeals court. Pryor supported Moore during most of his Commandments battle, but broke with him after the judge attempted to defy the federal courts.
Moore's friends regard Pryor as a traitor and are outraged that Bush used a recess appointment to place Pryor on the federal bench.
At the University of Massachusetts, Moore, who had been invited on campus by the school's Republican Club, used a slide show to detail his arguments attacking church-state separation and insisting that America was founded as a Christian nation. According to the Daily Hampshire Gazette, Moore concluded that, like an elderly woman weary of a husband who forgets her birthday, America is simply tired of God.
"We don't want a God over us," Moore griped.
During a question-and-answer period that followed Moore's presentation, one of the attendees asked Moore if he would find it troubling if a judge commissioned symbols of Buddhism to be placed in a courthouse rotunda. Moore responded by first suggesting that the attendee's question revealed "a lack of understanding on this matter."
"This nation is not founded on Buddhism. This nation is not founded on Islam," Moore proclaimed. "Those nations do not give you freedom of conscience. Go to Saudi Arabia and try to talk about Christians with somebody and see how fast you wind up in jail or with your head cut off. This nation is founded upon God. My responsibility is to acknowledge that God under the Constitution of Alabama."
Another attendee asked Moore whether a society governed by secular law was more protective of all kinds of faiths.
"Secularism is a religion," Moore retorted. "Somebody has got to be in charge. Our nation was not founded on secular humanism. It was founded upon God."
In an interview with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Americans United's Lynn said the decision by the special Alabama Supreme Court should be a signal to other public officials who put up religious symbols in defiance of the Constitution. The ruling, he said, sent a "clear message in places like Pennsylvania, Montana and Washington state, where we have been fighting Ten Commandment displays, that this is just an expensive, losing proposition."