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Alabama chief justice defends Ten Commandments monument in trial

By The Associated Press

10.17.02

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MONTGOMERY, Ala. — The chief justice of Alabama's Supreme Court defended a 5,280-pound Ten Commandments monument he installed in the state Judicial Building, testifying he believed the commandments are the moral foundation of law.

Chief Justice Roy Moore was questioned yesterday as a witness in a lawsuit that seeks to remove the monument on the grounds that it is an unconstitutional endorsement of religion by the state. A trial in U.S. District Court over the lawsuit began this week.

Legal experts say the case could eventually be the one the U.S. Supreme Court uses to decide if such monuments in and around government buildings are constitutional.

Moore spent more than three hours on the stand, quoting from the Bible, the Declaration of Independence, George Washington and James Madison.

The conservative Christian took aim at the U.S. Supreme Court's decision to ban prayer in schools as one of the federal rulings he said had contributed to moral deterioration in America over the past 40 or 50 years.

"I think Supreme Court decisions have distanced us from the acknowledgment of God and without the acknowledgment of God there is a loss of morality," Moore testified.

The testimony came on the second day of the trial in a lawsuit filed by the Southern Poverty Law Center and Americans United for Separation of Church and State on behalf of three Alabama attorneys.

In other testimony yesterday, court administrator Rich Hobson said he had on various occasions prayed both out loud and to himself in front of the Ten Commandments monument. Asked why he would want to pray in front of the monument, he said, "It is the moral foundation of law. I'm thankful I'm there, I'm thankful I'm employed in that building."

Richard Cohen, an attorney for the Southern Poverty Law Center, said later that Hobson's testimony proved the plaintiff's claim that the monument has a religious purpose.

"The monument obviously has a religious effect if people stop to pray around it," Cohen said.

Leaving the courthouse, Moore declined to comment. His testimony was to continue today.

Moore had the monument placed in the building late on the night of July 31, 2001, without telling other justices.

Moore, a Republican, displayed a wooden plaque of the Commandments on the wall of his courtroom when he was a circuit court judge. He was elected chief justice after campaigning as "Alabama's Ten Commandments judge."

The trial had been expected to end tomorrow, but U.S. District Judge Myron Thompson, who is hearing the case without a jury, said testimony would continue into next week. He has not said when he might rule.

Update

Trial over Alabama Ten Commandments monument ends
Federal judge expects to rule by Nov. 18, believes main issue is 'if government can acknowledge God.'  10.24.02

Previous

'Ten Commandments judge' says monument doesn't endorse religion
Roy Moore's attorneys say challenges to 5,280-pound display erroneously equate public acknowledgment of God with religious promotion.  01.10.02

Related

County attorney: Ten Commandments displays aren't religious
Tennessee officials tell federal judge that postings are secular reminders for citizens to obey the law.  04.30.02

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