Ten Commandments ordered out of Alabama judicial building
By The Associated Press
MONTGOMERY, Ala. A federal judge ruled yesterday that a Ten Commandments monument installed in Alabama's judicial building by the state's chief justice must be removed because it violates the separation of church and state.
U.S. District Judge Myron Thompson said he does not believe all Ten Commandment displays in government buildings are illegal, but this one crosses the line.
"Its sloping top and the religious air of the tablets unequivocally call to mind an open Bible resting on a podium," Thompson said.
The judge said Chief Justice Roy Moore has 30 days to remove the 5,300-pound monument at his own expense. Thompson said if Moore fails to remove the monument at his own expense, the federal court will issue an injunction forcing him to remove it.
Attorney Stephen Melchior said Moore would ask the appellate court to allow the monument to stay in the judicial building until the appeals process is completed.
Moore had no immediate comment yesterday, but scheduled a news conference for this morning. Melchior said he didn't think Thompson understood Moore's testimony over almost three days of the trial.
"The judge uses the term religion 97 times in the opinion and the term religious 50 times, but goes on to talk about how it's dangerous to define the term religion," Melchior said. "I can't imagine the appellate court buying such interesting logic."
Moore installed the monument after-hours on a summer night in 2001 without telling other justices. He did tell a Florida television evangelist, who filmed the installation and offers videotapes of it for $19.
The chief justice testified that he installed the monument partly because of concern the country had suffered a moral decline over the past 40 or 50 years as a result of federal court rulings, including those against prayer in public schools.
(In its 1962 decision Engel v. Vitale, the U.S. Supreme Court barred only state-sponsored prayer in public schools.)
Critics said the monument promoted the judge's conservative Christian views in violation of the Constitution.
"Justice Moore was trying to force his religious beliefs on the people of Alabama. He turned the hall of justice into a religious sanctuary where people drop to their knees and pray," said Morris Dees, co-founder of the Southern Poverty Law Center, which joined in a lawsuit to remove the monument.
Moore, a West Point graduate and Vietnam veteran, opposes abortion and homosexuality as sins.
Before he won election as chief justice in 2000, he waged a battle in state and federal court to keep a homemade plaque of the Ten Commandments posted in his Gadsden courtroom.
During the campaign, he advertised himself as "Alabama's Ten Commandments judge" and promised to bring the plaque with him to the Supreme Court building in Montgomery.
Instead, the building ended up with a monument featuring the King James Bible version of the Ten Commandments on top of a granite block in the rotunda.
One of the plaintiffs, lawyer Stephen Glassroth, said he knew he was taking an unpopular stand when he sued over the monument.
"In Alabama, a politician never goes wrong by cloaking himself in God. But religion should be in the synagogue, the temple, or the church, and not in the lobby of the state judicial building," Glassroth said.
One of Moore's supporters, Alabama Christian Coalition President John Giles, said yesterday's ruling "seriously erodes our religious freedoms."
Dean Young, executive director of the Gadsden-based Christian Family Association, called the ruling a case of "a liberal federal judge standing up and saying we can't acknowledge God in our courtrooms."
Rev. Barry W. Lynn, executive director of Americans United for Separation of Church and State, called the ruling a setback for "Moore's religious crusade."
"It's high time Moore learned that the source of U.S. law is the constitution and not the Bible," Lynn said.
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