Nov 08, 2012

As we reported yesterday, the election results this week were largely disappointing to the Catholic bishops and their Religious Right allies. Most of their top-priority candidates and referenda went down to defeat.

One exception stands out. In Alabama, voters inexplicably chose disgraced jurist Roy Moore as their new chief justice!

I’m sure you remember Moore, the notorious “Ten Commandments” judge. When he was Alabama chief justice in 2001, he hauled a 2.5-ton granite monument depicting a Protestant version of the Decalogue into the foyer of the Alabama Judicial Building and announced that it was his intent to “acknowledge God.”

Americans United and our allies in Alabama sued, charging Moore with violating the constitutional separation of church and state. Judicial buildings should stand for equality and justice for all citizens, not favored treatment for some faiths.

The federal courts ruled in our favor, but Moore decided to defy the court order to remove the monument. That worked out about as well as you’d expect. The monument was removed from the foyer, and in 2003, Moore was removed from the state supreme court.

Now, like a southern-fried Freddy Krueger, Moore is back. He lost races for governor in 2006 and 2010, but this year he won the Republican nomination for chief justice. Then on Nov. 6 he edged out Jefferson County Circuit Judge Bob Vance to win the post.

There’s little reason to think Moore has mended his ways. During the campaign, he suggested that he wouldn’t try to put the Commandments monument back into the judicial building, but he did intend to “acknowledge God.”  He wasn’t quite clear about what that means, but somehow I doubt it’s a commitment to respect the constitutional separation of religion and government.

According to local media reports, Moore told a Tea Party event that same-sex marriage would be the “ultimate destruction” of the nation. At a right-wing pastors’ rally on the Alabama Capitol steps, he lamented abortion rights and gay rights and insisted that America is “suffering economically and politically because we’ve suffered moral decay in our country.”

God, he told the clergy gathering, will “bless or curse this nation according to the course they take in politics.”

This kind of intemperate language hardly suggests that Moore will be coming into his court position with the kind of impartial mindset we expect of judges. Lots of folks in Alabama said the same thing.

Rabbi Jonathan Miller of Birmingham’s Temple Emanu-El said Moore’s criticism of reproductive rights, gay rights and other expressions of religious zeal is familiar.

“I have heard this speech ever since I was a child,” he wrote in an essay. “It is the trope of those who would sow divisiveness into a society for their own advantage, and inflict their judgment on other people…. When I hear Moore telling us that it is our duty to acknowledge God, I suspect that something mean and hurtful to somebody else will soon follow.”

The Anniston Star said the United States is not a theocracy and neither is Alabama.

“If elected,” the Star said, “Moore will be sworn to uphold the law, even if the law does not conform to what he believes God wants the nation to do…. As chief justice, Moore would be sworn to uphold the constitutions of Alabama and the nation. He may take that oath on the Bible, but the oath will not be to the Bible.”

The newspaper noted that Moore’s past antics “cost him his job and Alabama taxpayers a lot of money that, to our knowledge, Moore never offered to repay.”

That’s exactly right. Judges are put in office to uphold the Constitution, not undermine it. If Roy Moore doesn’t understand that fact, we may be headed for another showdown in federal court. And the poor taxpayers of Alabama will be picking up the tab for another needless lawsuit.