December 2012 Church & State | People & Events

Infamous “Ten Commandments” Judge Roy Moore has been elected chief justice of Alabama.

In voting Nov. 6, Moore narrowly defeated Jefferson County Circuit Judge Bob Vance. That means Moore will be returning to the position he was removed from in 2003 for defying federal court orders.

When he was chief justice in 2001, Moore hauled a 2.5-ton granite monument depicting a Protestant version of the Decalogue into the foyer of the Alabama Judicial Building. He announced that it was his intent to “acknowledge God.”

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

The federal courts ruled against the sectarian symbol, but Moore decided to defy the court order. Despite his intransigence, the monument was removed from the foyer.

In 2003, Moore was removed from the state supreme court for refusing to comply with federal court directives.

Moore lost races for governor in 2006 and 2010, but this year he took the Republican nomination for chief justice and triumphed in the general election by a 52-48 percent margin.

During the campaign, Moore suggested that he wouldn’t try to put the Commandments monument back into the judicial building, but he did intend to “acknowledge God.” 

According to local media reports, Moore also waded into controversial topics. He 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.”

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

Some Alabamians challenged Moore’s actions and rhetoric.

Rabbi Jonathan Miller of Birmingham’s Temple Emanu-El said Moore’s criticism of reproductive rights, gay equality and other expressions of religious zeal are 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 editorialized, “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…. 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.” (The state paid $549,000 in legal fees to the winning side in the case.)

Americans United will be watching Moore’s conduct as chief justice.

In a “Wall of Separation” blog post, AU Communications Director Joseph L. Conn wrote, “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.”