I'm always surprised when people in the heartland of America – conservative folks who claim to love their country and its institutions – display contempt for the rule of law.
Consider the case of Haskell County, Okla. A federal appeals court ruled yesterday that an eight-foot-high Ten Commandments monument erected in front of the courthouse in 2004 must come down. The monument, the court declared, violates the separation of church and state.
In response, Haskell County Commissioner Mitch Worsham told the Associated Press, "Whoever was the judge in this, I feel sorry for him on Judgment Day. We're not going to take it down."
Now, it is true that the county can appeal. They can ask the entire 10th Circuit Court of Appeals to hear the case, a rarely granted procedure known as an en banc hearing. They can also ask the U.S. Supreme Court to hear the case.
But if those appeals fail, the county will be legally obligated to remove the monument. There's no need to destroy it. It can be moved to church property – where it should have been all along.
What if county officials refuse? That exact situation happened in Alabama in 2003. Roy Moore, chief justice of the Alabama Supreme Court, defied a federal court order and refused to remove a two-ton Ten Commandments monument that he had erected in the judicial building.
Eventually, federal marshals came in and took away the monument. Moore was suspended from office and put on trial by the Alabama Court of Judiciary. The Court voted unanimously to remove Moore from office, and his appeal also failed.
Moore later ran for governor and was handily defeated.
Worsham also seems confused about "whoever was the judge in this." Let me enlighten him.
Three federal judges sat on the appeals panel. Their names are Jerome A. Holmes (who wrote the opinion), Harris L. Hartz and Terrence L. O'Brien. All three were appointed by President George W. Bush, which is a good indication that they're not "liberal activists" determined to drive every vestige of religion out of public life. Perhaps they just want to uphold our constitutional values.
As for Judgment Day, I wouldn't worry if I were one of the judges. I doubt Saint Peter reads the 10th Circuit's opinions. In any case, the relevant question isn't how the ruling might play in Heaven but whether it accords with the Constitution. I think it fits quite nicely.
I understand that some people in Haskell County don't like this ruling. That's fine. They can speak out against it. They can rail against the Oklahoma ACLU for bringing the case and rant about Americans United and the mainstream religious leaders who filed amicus briefs supporting the lawsuit.
But when the time comes to move the monument, I hope they and their elected leaders will have enough sense to do the right thing and won't emulate Roy Moore.
We know the ending of that story. It's not a happy one.