December 2003 Church & State | Featured

For Judge Roy Moore, it was a devastating one-two punch.

Moore, Alabama Su­preme Court chief justice and a former kick-boxer, staggered back to his corner in Nov­em­ber after two roundhouse blows against him in his Ten Command­ments fight: The U.S. Su­preme Court on Nov. 3 brushed aside Moore's legal appeals, and then just ten days later a judicial ethics panel in Alabama removed the pugnacious jurist from his seat on the state's high court.

The first action came as little surprise, but the second stunned many observers.

When Moore placed a 5,280-pound Commandments monument on display in the rotunda of the state Judicial Building in Montgomery, Ala., most legal ob­servers thought he had clearly violated the constitutional separation of church and state and would be reined in by the federal courts. After Moore defied federal court orders to remove the display, few thought the act would lead to Moore's eviction from the bench.

They were wrong. In a unanimous ruling announced Nov. 13, the Alabama Court of the Judiciary found Moore guilty of six violations of the Canons of Judicial Ethics. The nine-member panel eight men and one woman said the judge failed to respect and comply with the law, failed to uphold the integrity and independence of the judiciary, failed to observe high standards of conduct, failed to avoid impropriety or the appearance of impropriety, failed to conduct himself in a manner promoting public confidence in the impartiality of the judiciary and failed to avoid conduct prejudicial to the administration of justice so as to bring the judiciary into disrepute.

Noting that Moore had refused to disavow his resistance to federal court orders in the future, the Court of the Judiciary's final judgment concluded, "Under these circumstances, there is no penalty short of removal from office that would resolve this issue. Anything short of removal would only serve to set up another confrontation that would ultimately bring us back to where we are today."

The ethics panel's action capped a week of high drama in Alabama's capital.

On Nov. 10, State Attorney General William Pryor had urged the special court to remove Moore. Pryor, who sided with the maverick judge during much of the Commandments battle, was required by state law to conduct the prosecution. (Pryor did so, knowing that his nomination for a federal appellate judgeship was pending before a Senate already skeptical about his fitness for higher office.)

Two days later, Moore's trial was held in the very Supreme Court chambers where Moore usually presides as chief justice. The only witness during the four-hour proceeding was Moore himself.

A crowd of some 200 people watched as Moore reiterated his claim that the Judeo-Christian God is the source of American law and must be acknowledged by the courts and other government officials.

"Law has a moral foundation," he said. "That foundation comes from the acknowledgement of God. Without the acknowledgement of God, you have no moral foundation."

Asked if he would return the Com­mandments monument to the Judicial Building rotunda if he had the opportunity, he replied, "It wouldn't stay in the closet. I haven't decided what I would do with it."

After the Court of the Judiciary removed Moore, the former jurist and his supporters indignantly vowed to continue their crusade.

"We've got to stop the hypocrisy in this country," Moore blustered. "We've got to stop judges who go into court and pray and then issue rulings saying we cannot acknowledge God. We've got to stop judges who go place their hands on the Bible to take oaths and then deny the very God on which that oath is based.

"You will hear from me again when it comes to the right to acknowledge God," Moore told his supporters outside the judicial building.

Moore's Religious Right backers were livid.

In a Nov. 13 press statement, James Dobson of Focus on the Family said, "This decision is an insult to all people of faith, who are being told that the public acknowledgement of God is unconstitutional. Throughout this judicial charade, and throughout all the controversy leading up to it, Chief Justice Moore remained committed to his oath of office, to the Alabama Constitution and the U.S. Constitution, all of which include references to God." [Editor's note: Dobson is mistaken; the U.S. Constitution makes no mention of God.]

TV preacher D. James Kennedy, who helped bankroll Moore's Command­ments crusade, called the action "deplorable." Attacking "lawless federal court edicts," Kennedy insisted that Moore's struggle "may well settle the question of whether we will return to freedom or be confirmed in our emerging status as subjects of our 'robed masters.'"

But advocates of church-state separation and the rule of law saw things differently.

"Moore flagrantly announced his intention to violate a federal court order, made a mockery of the legal system and created an unseemly media circus," said Americans United Executive Director Barry Lynn. "Today, he learned the results of that defiance. The Court of the Judiciary has served the cause of justice."

Lynn was also pleased that the U.S. Supreme Court denied Moore's legal petitions a few days earlier. The high court, without comment, turned down two of the Alabama judge's appeals.

Said Lynn, "The outcome does not surprise me. The Supreme Court was never likely to give its blessing to Moore's misguided crusade. It is time for Moore to face facts: he's on the wrong side of the Constitution. Religious symbols belong in our homes and houses of worship, not our courthouses."

The action also drew praise from some weary observers in Alabama.

In a Nov. 5 editorial, The Anniston Star observed, "Once again, Alabama has found itself embarrassed by a demagogue, a charlatan, a man who likes seeing his name in the headlines, a man whose mission has nothing to do with law and fairness and justice and has everything to do with ego, ambition and personal gain.... No matter what happens from here on out, however, Justice Moore's monument is not coming back. We can all join together and sing a hearty 'Hallelujah' about that."

What's next in the Moore saga?

Moore and his lawyers have indicated that they will probably appeal his expulsion from the bench. Ironically, state law provides that such an appeal must go to the Alabama Supreme Court, the very body from which Moore was removed.

That's likely to provoke an interesting situation. State Supreme Court justices in Alabama are elected by the voters, and some of the sitting justices may recuse themselves rather than face the prospect of ruling against Moore, a political figure who remains popular with a significant portion of the electorate.

In the meantime, the 56-year-old Moore has announced plans to go on a speaking tour. Now that he has lost his $170,000-a-year slot on the state's high court, Moore must look to other sources of income, and the lucrative fundamentalist church market is likely to provide.

"I will continue going around this country and speaking about this issue, telling people about the First Amend­ment," Moore said. "The only purpose of the First Amendment was to allow the acknowledgement of God."

Moore will be promoting federal legislation that would deny the federal courts the authority to rule on issues involving the Ten Commandments and other governmental endorsements of religion. That crusade will have help from wealthy and powerful interests.

Moore came to Washington Sept. 10 to meet with House Majority Leader Tom DeLay (R-Texas) and other members of Congress to discuss legislative measures that would protect governmental religious ventures. Some "court-stripping" bills have already been introduced, and Moore lawyer Herb Titus is working on another. (Titus is the former dean of TV preacher Pat Robertson's Regent Uni­ver­­sity Law School.)

Religious Right leaders are hot to join the movement. On Nov. 17, an array of right-wing organizational leaders held a press conference in Washing­ton to announce a petition drive for federal laws to allow Command­­ments displays in public buildings.

Among those speaking at the event were Tony Perkins of the Family Research Council, failed presidential candidate Alan Keyes, American Values President Gary Bauer, Rabbi Yehuda Levin, the Rev. Frank Pavone of Priests For Life, Janet LaRue of Concerned Women for America, the Rev. Rick Scarborough of Vision America and Janice Crouse, a former Bush speech writer and now senior fellow at the Beverly LaHaye Institute. (Veteran conservative organizer Paul Weyrich and religious broadcasters Pat Robertson, Jerry Falwell, D. James Kennedy and James Dobson are also lending their support to the effort.)

The Religious Right plans to turn Moore into a martyr for their cause.

At the press conference, Scarborough said, "God often does his best work right after a crucifixion. What we saw with Justice Roy Moore was a crucifixion. God will vindicate this man."

The fate of Moore's Commandments monument is also up in the air. He paid for the sculpting of the graven image, so it belongs to him. At present, it's being kept in a storage room in the Alabama Judicial Building.

"I don't know what I'm going to do with the monument," Moore told The Birmingham News. "It's in a storage closet, and I haven't planned to move it yet. I've got to make arrangements."

Moore has suggested that the monument be displayed in the U.S. Capitol.

AU's Lynn said Americans United will counter Moore and his allies wherever they take their theocratic crusade.

"Moore and his friends have lost at every turn in the courts," said Lynn. "We will make every effort to see that they continue to do so, whether it's in the courts, Congress or the state legislatures."