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Judge’s Ten Commandments plaque remains focus of legal battle

GADSDEN, Ala. (BP)–An Alabama circuit court ruled Feb. 10
the Ten Commandments plaque must come down from the courtroom wall of Etowah County Circuit Judge Roy S. Moore. The ruling from Montgomery County Circuit Judge Charles Price came less than a week after Alabama Gov. Fob James unexpectedly told about 450 Baptists and state legislators only “a force of arms” could remove the plaque.

“Make no mistake,” James remarked about his resolve to call on the National Guard if necessary to allow Moore to hang a hand-carved Ten Commandments plaque in his courtroom in Gadsden.

Price banned Moore last November from saying an opening prayer before jury selection but allowed the Ten Commandments plaque. Moore has said he will not stop the prayers in his courtroom even if it results in a contempt of court charge.

However, the Alabama Supreme Court ruled Feb. 7 Moore could hold prayers until the Supreme Court makes a final decision.

Recently, the American Civil Liberties Union asked Price to rethink his decision over the Ten Commandments. After taking a personal look at the wooden plaque, Price agreed with the ACLU and overturned his own ruling allowing for the display.

In an interview with The Alabama Baptist, Attorney General Bill Pryor voiced deep conviction that Moore’s display of the Ten Commandments as well as Moore’s prayers in the courtroom are both constitutional practices. In fact, Pryor filed a state court lawsuit in 1995 against the ACLU, defending Moore.

“The governor feels strongly that there are matters of serious constitutional significance where the executive branch has the duty to uphold the constitution as the executive branch interprets,” Pryor said, noting there are ways the executive branch does not have to agree with interpretations of the constitution by the courts.

James’ initial statement relating to the Moore case during the Feb. 4 Legislative Prayer Luncheon sponsored by the Alabama State Board of Missions followed a speech by Richard Land, president of the Southern Baptist Convention’s Christian Life Commission. Land called for a government that would neither sponsor nor censor religion. He emphasized that religious people must be free to bring their moral convictions into public life.

“Those of moral and religious convictions, whatever their faith, have a right to full citizenship in public policy and the public arena,” Land said, noting the need to remove the negative stigma that goes along with religious and moral convictions in public policy.

“We have a right to bring our moral and religious convictions to bear on all the critical issues of our day,” Land said, stressing he does not mean for government to sponsor religion.

“There’s an enormous difference in the government not giving preference to religion, which it should not, and the government seeking to suppress citizens’ rights to bring their religious convictions and values into the public marketplace,” Land said, noting most Baptists agreed with the 1962-63 Supreme Court decisions removing prayer from schools. “What (Baptists) don’t agree with is how they have been abused and misused in the last 30 years since those decisions,” he said.

James stated during his opening remarks at the prayer luncheon that his “inclination is to say ‘Amen’ and sit down.” However, James then made his statement about using force to keep the Ten Commandments in the courtroom.

Land could not be contacted for his reaction to James’ remarks, in light of what the SBC leader had said about non-government sponsorship of religion.

During his keynote address at the prayer luncheon, Land said that as men and women standing on the brink of a new millennium of the United States, “We live in a time when all presuppositions and all values are challenged.” People from different denominations, religions and faiths are realizing that something must be done, he said.

While a time of great opportunity, this is also a time of great peril, Land remarked. “The danger of a moral collapse poses a far greater threat to our continued existence as a nation than ever we faced from the Japanese navy, the German air force or the Soviet missile command,” Land said. “The emphasis on the impact of the Christian faith on our culture has been diminishing. The myth is that we can’t legislate morality.”

However, passing laws against murder, theft, rape and racism legislate morality, Land declared. “When we pass laws making murder, theft, rape and racism illegal, we are not trying to impose our morality on murderers, thieves, rapists and racists. We are trying to keep them from imposing their immorality on us. We have an obligation to protect those who are being victimized.”

Referring to Romans 13, Land said God ordained the civil magistrate to punish those who do evil and reward those who do what is right. “If we take this away, then we take away the reason God gave us government,” Land said. “Every single moral wrong and injustice in our society has been corrected because people of religious conviction and religious faith have brought their religious convictions into the public arena and insisted there be a change,” Land stated.

James also pleaded with Alabama Baptists attending the luncheon to get involved and help impose their morality on the state, especially in areas of education, gambling and child abuse and neglect.

“Help us,” James said, referring specifically to child abuse problems. “If I knew how to do it as governor, I would have done it the first day I took office.”

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  • Jennifer Davis