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Land ‘dismayed’ at Moore’s defiance of federal court order

WASHINGTON (BP)–The open defiance by Alabama Chief Justice Roy Moore of a federal court is deeply disturbing, Southern Baptist church-state specialist Richard Land said Aug. 18.

“However much sympathy I may have for Judge Moore’s beliefs and convictions about the Ten Commandments and the role they have played in Western civilization and American jurisprudence, I am dismayed at the prospect of a judge defying a court order,” said Land, president of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission. “One of the foundational principles of American law is that we believe in the rule of law.”

Moore announced Aug. 14 he would not obey a federal judge’s order to remove by Aug. 20 the Ten Commandments display at Alabama’s judicial building in Montgomery. As chief justice of the state’s highest court, Moore had the 5,280-pound granite monument placed in the building’s lobby in 2001. About 4,000 people rallied Aug. 16 in Montgomery to support Moore and the display.

Land agreed with concerns expressed by Jay Sekulow, chief counsel of the American Center for Law and Justice, about Moore’s legal strategy. That approach is going to produce a “constitutional showdown in Alabama,” Sekulow said on his syndicated radio program Aug. 15.

Moore could have requested a stay of the ruling from the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals, Land and Sekulow said. Such delays of enforcement are routinely issued and would have allowed the monument to remain on display, Sekulow said. The deadline for such a request is long past, Sekulow said. Moore also could have appealed for a rehearing by the entire court of appeals of the decision by a panel of three of its judges, they said.

Instead, Moore asked the U.S. Supreme Court Aug. 15 to postpone the monument’s removal, according to The Montgomery Advertiser. An expert on the high court’s rules told The Advertiser such appeals have succeeded only about 10 times in the last 100 years.

Moore failed to exhaust his legal recourse before defying a court order, Land said.

“In effect, Judge Moore is engaging in civil disobedience,” Land said. “As I understand it, while civil disobedience may be an ultimate option for individual Christians as a matter of conscience, it would only be justified morally when all legal recourse has been exhausted. And then, civil disobedience, to be justified, must be nonviolent and the person who feels compelled to disobey the law must be willing to pay the consequences of disobeying the law.

“After all, what gave Dr. Martin Luther King’s ‘Letter From Birmingham Jail’ its biggest impact was the fact he wrote it from the Birmingham jail, where he was being incarcerated for refusing to obey an unjust law after having exhausted his legal recourse,” Land said.

As he understands the facts surrounding the Ten Commandments monument, he believes the display is constitutional, Land said.

“It’s my understanding that the Ten Commandments display was paid for by Judge Moore and private sources, and that no public money was used to construct the display,” he said. “If that indeed is true and a display of items from another faith would be accommodated if a judge from another faith wished to erect a similar display on public property, then I believe that this would fit within the parameters of government accommodation of the people’s right to express their religious convictions in public forums.”

Sekulow also said he supports displays of the Ten Commandments.

Alabama Attorney General Bill Pryor, who has supported Moore in the past, refused to back the chief justice’s defiance of the court order, according to The Montgomery Advertiser. President Bush has nominated Pryor to the 11th Circuit Court, but Democratic senators are waging a campaign against confirmation based on his pro-life and conservative views.

The eight other justices on the state Supreme Court met Aug. 14 about Moore’s defiance and plan to reconvene Aug. 20. The associate justices could overrule Moore and have the display removed, The Advertiser reported.

In his announcement that he would refuse to remove the monument, Moore said he had “maintained the rule of law.”

He said the “question is not whether I will move the monument. It is not a question of whether I will disobey or obey a court order.” Rather, he said, the “real question is whether or not I will deny the God that created us and endowed us with certain inalienable rights and among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.”

Moore also insisted he is upholding Alabama’s Constitution, which references God.

A three-judge panel of the 11th Circuit Court issued its unanimous ruling July 1 in favor of a federal judge’s ruling that the display violates the constitutional prohibition on government establishment of religion. Judge Myron Thompson had ruled in November the monument had a non-secular purpose and had the primary effect of promoting religion.

In its opinion, the appeals court panel rebuked Moore for asserting he does not have to answer to a “higher judicial authority” as the state’s chief justice. “That, of course, is the same position taken by those southern governors who attempted to defy federal court orders” during the desegregation era, the panel said in its decision.

Alabama voters elected Moore chief justice in 2000, and he had the monument installed in the judicial building’s lobby one night the following summer. The monument was installed without the knowledge of the Supreme Court’s other justices and without the use of state funds. Other historical quotations are located on the monument below the Ten Commandments.

Moore first became well known, especially among conservative Christians, after he posted a plaque of the Ten Commandments in his Etowah County courtroom in the 1990s.

The 11th Circuit includes district courts in Alabama, Florida and Georgia.