'Ten Commandments Judge' Must Remove Monument, AU Tells Court

Alabama Supreme Court Chief Justice Roy Moore does not have a constitutional right to display the Ten Commandments in the state Judicial Building, Americans United has told a federal appeals court.

In a legal brief filed April 14, attorneys with Americans United, the American Civil Liberties Union of Alabama and the Southern Poverty Law Center asked the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals to uphold a lower court ruling and require Moore to remove the religious monument.

The lawyers argued that Moore clearly intended to endorse religion through his display of the Decalogue.

The brief, written by Americans United Legal Director Ayesha Khan, asserts, "Chief Justice Moore erected the Ten Commandments monument to acknowledge the 'ultimate authority' of the Christian God, and to encourage viewers to obey the 'absolute standards' that the monument depicts. These are unabashedly religious purposes."

Elsewhere, the brief insists that Moore's view of the relationship between the states and the federal government is outmoded and extreme.

"In a glaring act of hubris, Moore argues that if the federal courts do not adopt his extremist view of [separation of church and state], he is not obliged to comply with their orders," observes the brief. "This argument runs afoul of longstanding principles of federalism and is an invitation to anarchy."

Moore, who was elected chief justice of the Alabama high court in 2000, commissioned an artist to make the two-ton sculpture and arranged for its display in the court building in July of 2001. Three months later, Americans United, the Southern Poverty Law Center and the Alabama ACLU filed lawsuits challenging the granite icon.

Meanwhile, Religious Right groups are urging the appeals court to allow Moore to keep the display up. The groups weighed in on the case with friend-of-the-court briefs in March.

After the lawsuit against Moore was filed, Religious Right groups were quick to rush to the judge's aid. TV preacher D. James Kennedy has raised hundreds of thousands of dollars for Moore and featured him in several broadcasts.

Now other Religious Right groups are joining the crusade. James Dobson's Focus on the Family and Beverly LaHaye's Concerned Women for America have signed an amicus brief with the Alliance Defense Fund, an umbrella organization of several TV preachers and Religious Right groups.

Separate briefs were also filed by WallBuilders, "Christian nation" propagandist David Barton's group in Texas, and by the Thomas More Center, an Ann Arbor, Mich., organization founded by right-wing Roman Catholic and pizza magnate Thomas Monaghan.

Alabama Gov. Bob Riley (R) has also joined the legal fray. On behalf of the state, Riley filed a legal brief asking the appeals court to uphold the display.

"Many Alabamians and Americans believe that the Ten Commandments are true and relevant and worthy of obedience today," wrote Troy King, Riley's legal advisor, "and it is unjust that the chief justice should be penalized in this litigation for professing that belief himself."

In other news about Moore:

D. James Kennedy is going too far in his efforts to raise money for Moore, an Alabama newspaper has charged. The Birmingham News, in a Feb. 23 editorial, criticized a Kennedy mailing that implied that Moore could go to jail for displaying the Ten Commandments. The letter included a photo of a man clutching prison bars with the caption, "Must Justice Moore GO TO JAIL for acknowledging God?"

"About the only way that Moore will find himself behind bars is if he knocks over a liquor store on this way to a Ten Commandments rally," opined the newspaper. The News called the claim "grossly exaggerated" and a "quick way to raise $150,000."

Moore's lawyers responded that they don't edit the appeals Kennedy issues on Moore's behalf.

Replied the News, "If this recent appeal is any indication, perhaps they should start."