Aug 04, 2003

A federal judge today ordered Alabama Chief Justice Roy Moore to remove an enormous Ten Commandments monument from the lobby of the state Judicial Building.

U.S. District Judge Myron Thompson lifted his stay and began enforcement of his decision that the religious display violates the First Amendment. Moore now has until Aug. 20 to remove the monument, Thompson's order stated.

Americans United for Separation of Church and State, which sued Moore on behalf of Alabama citizens, lauded Thompson's order. (The Southern Poverty Law Center and the Alabama ACLU joined with Americans United in the lawsuit against Moore.)

"Roy Moore has defied the Constitution long enough," said the Rev. Barry W. Lynn, executive director of Americans United. "The monument is a blatant government endorsement of religion, and Moore should remove it promptly."

Moore's attorneys, however, have continued to insist that the federal court has no authority to order the monument out of the courthouse, setting the stage for a possible confrontation.

Lynn urged Moore to comply with the order.

"It would be a tragedy if Moore and his allies try to defy the federal court's ruling," Lynn said. "Many Americans sadly remember when George Wallace stood in the schoolhouse door in Alabama in an effort to deny racial minorities their rights 30 years ago. It would be a shame if Roy Moore tries to stand in the courthouse door today to do the same to religious minorities."

Thompson ruled in 2002 that Moore's placement of the monument breaches the constitutional wall separating religion and government, and the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals unanimously upheld Thompson's ruling on July 1.

The 11th Circuit's decision in Glassroth v. Moore, caused uproar among Moore's supporters and in the U.S. House of Representatives, which recently approved an amendment to a spending bill that declared no federal funds could be used to enforce the ruling.

The House vote is regarded by constitutional authorities as highly problematic from a legal perspective, but it gave congressional encouragement to Moore in his religious crusade.

Moore has refused to say whether he will obey a federal court order to remove the 5,280-pound granite Commandments monument. In addition, the Alabama Christian Coalition and other Religious Right groups have threatened to engage in civil disobedience to keep the religious symbol in place.

In his order today, Thompson made it clear he will not hesitate to find Moore in contempt of court if he does not follow the order. Thompson noted that "the court could levy substantial fines against Chief Justice Moore in his official capacity and, thus, against the State of Alabama itself, until the monument is removed. "

Such fines, Thompson wrote, could start at $5,000 per day for the first week "with the amount of the fine perhaps to double at the beginning of each and every week thereafter...until there is full compliance with the order the court enters today."

AU Legal Director Ayesha Khan said it would be best for all concerned if Moore complied immediately with Thompson's order.

"If Judge Moore really cares about the Ten Commandments, he will not allow them to become the star attraction in a media circus," Khan said.

Americans United for Separation of Church and State is a religious liberty watchdog group based in Washington, D.C. Founded in 1947, the organization educates Americans about the importance of church-state separation in safeguarding religious freedom.