Volume 2, Issue 2 (Originally Published 30 July 2012)
August 1, 2001 – US Judge Installs Ten
On August 1 2001, Chief Justice of the Alabama Supreme Court Roy Moore had a large monument of the Ten Commandments commissioned and installed in the Alabama Judicial Building. What follows is a bizarre case of a member of the elected judiciary so faithful to a 2400kg granite block of tenets that he refused to remove it despite orders from a federal judge, eventually leading to a lawsuit and his own removal from office.
Chief Justice Moore consistently defended the propriety of the monument in his courtroom, explaining that the Commandments were there to ‘establish the moral foundation of our law’. At the official unveiling, he declared that this day would mark ‘the return to the knowledge of God in our land’.
Unsurprisingly, the monument generated political controversy and litigation soon followed. Organisations such as the American United for Separation and Church, and State and the Southern Poverty Law Center, among others, filed a lawsuit against the District of Alabama asking for the granite block to be removed, arguing that it clearly ‘sends a message…that the government encourages and endorses the practice of religion in general and Judeo-Christianity in particular’. Arguments advanced included evidence that people had begun treating the courtroom as an area of prayer, and lawyers uncomfortable with the religious atmosphere created changed their court visits and work practices in order to avoid seeing the monument. The presiding judge declared the monument unconstitutional; it violated the Establishment Clause of the of the First Amendment, which prohibited the government from giving preference to one religion over another.
Moore vehemently refused to remove the monument, declaring that all law came from the ‘sovereignty of God’. He unsuccessfully appealed. He continued to defy the court order, which eventually resulted in his removal from office. The monument was finally removed in 2004. To this day, Moore stands by his decision and wrote about it in his 2005 autobiography, So Help Me God, opining that ‘those who sat behind benches…did not want to be reminded that there is a God…judicial restraint gave way to judicial tyranny, and a new law reigned – the rule of man’.