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Ala. judge’s Ten Commandments still up after court ruling

MONTGOMERY, Ala. (BP)–The Alabama Supreme Court has dismissed a Ten Commandments case in the national spotlight.
The state’s high court, in a Jan. 23 ruling, said Gov. Fob James and Attorney General Bill Pryor lacked legal grounds in a religious-freedom lawsuit seeking a declaratory judgment on behalf of Judge Roy Moore, who displays the Ten Commandments on his Etowah County courtroom wall in Gadsden.
The ruling did not weigh in on the constitutional issues involved in Moore’s public display of the commandments, according to news reports.
Moore told a news conference after the decision he thus will continue displaying his hand-carved Ten Commandments on the wall above his bench, as well as his practice of praying in court.
“The court could not have allowed the practice to continue if it did not believe it to be constitutional,” Moore said.
An American Civil Liberties Union attorney who initiated the case against Judge Moore in 1993, however, noted the Supreme Court dismissal still leaves as the only ruling standing a trial judge’s decision last February that Moore’s practices are banned by the First Amendment.
The ACLU’s Joel Sogol said the trial court ruling, though it may not be enforceable, “stands until someone relitigates it, because so far it is the only judicial precedent in the state.”
Sogol noted “there is nothing here capable of going to the (U.S.) Supreme Court. We are back to square one with state trial court.”
James and Pryor had turned to the state’s courts for a final word on whether prayers and the Ten Commandments display are constitutional in Alabama courtrooms after a judge threw out a federal suit filed by the ACLU. In their suit, James and Pryor argued the posting of the Ten Commandments is commonplace in public buildings and is not a coercive practice.
The trial judge’s ruling last February sparked a nationwide controversy, with James claiming he would use the National Guard to protect the Ten Commandments display, if necessary. Pryor appealed the case to the Alabama Supreme Court.
In a separate matter, the Alabama House of Representatives voted overwhelmingly Jan. 20 to require teachers to set aside up to 60 seconds at the start of each day for students to engage in a moment of silent prayer or to think about the anticipated activities of the day, the Associated Press has reported.
In March, U.S. District Judge Ira DeMent struck down a 1993 Alabama law that called for nonsectarian, voluntary prayer in schools, and in October, DeMent issued an injunction against various religious practices in DeKalb County schools. The governor and attorney general are appealing parts of DeMent’s order.