Nov 05, 1997

A state court judge in Alabama has provoked a constitutional showdown by attempting to block enforcement of a federal court order barring officially sanctioned prayer and other religious activities in public schools.

Gadsden Circuit Judge Roy S. Moore issued a temporary restraining order Nov. 4 blocking enforcement of U.S. District Judge Ira DeMent's ruling against religious practices in Alabama public schools. Moore ordered the Etowah County Board of Education and the Alabama State Board of Education not to enforce DeMent's ruling within Moore's Etowah County jurisdiction.

"Some Alabama officials seem to be trying to secede again," said Barry W. Lynn, executive director of Americans United for Separation of Church and State. "All government officials are bound by the U.S. Constitution and the rulings of the federal courts. No one is above the law."

"Judge Moore is showing his true colors as an extremist on the farthest fringes of legal opinion," said Lynn. "This is flat-earth jurisprudence. Even the slowest freshman in law school knows that state courts cannot overturn federal court rulings."

Americans United and the Alabama affiliate of the American Civil Liberties Union sponsored the Chandler v. James lawsuit that resulted in Judge DeMent's Oct. 29 ruling. In that order, DeMent barred all school-organized or officially sanctioned religious activities in public schools.

Judge Moore came to national attention earlier this year when he vowed to defy a state court order requiring him to remove a Ten Commandments plaque from his courtroom wall and discontinue clergy-led prayers before court sessions. He drew strong support from Religious Right groups and Gov. Fob James who promised to use state troopers and the National Guard to keep the religious practices in place. (James serves as chairman of the state board of education.)