News Articles

Ten Commandments crisis in Ala. puts evangelicals on opposite sides

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (BP)–Evangelical leaders James Dobson and Pat Robertson came down on opposing sides of the Alabama Ten Commandments controversy Aug. 25, while a third evangelical, Richard Land, released a further elaboration of his position.

Speaking on his daily Focus on the Family radio program, Dobson said he supports Alabama Chief Justice Roy Moore and “strongly” disagrees with evangelicals who have criticized Moore’s legal strategy.

Robertson and Land both said that while they believe Moore’s Ten Commandments display is constitutional, they think he should have obeyed a federal court order and removed the monument. Robertson made his comments on the “Jay Sekulow Live!” radio program, while Land did so in a column posted on Baptist Press’ website, http://www.bpnews.net/bpcolumn.asp?ID=1095.

The day’s events highlight a divide on the issue among evangelicals.

“We’re at a turning point, a pivotal point in the history of this country,” said Dobson, who discussed the issue with Moore, former presidential candidate Alan Keyes and Focus on the Family President Don Hodel. “This is just not another issue…. There are times when you have to respond to a higher law.”

Dobson encouraged listeners to go to Montgomery, Ala., where more than 100 of Moore’s supporters are camped out in front of the state judicial building, hoping to stop the monument’s removal. Moore’s eight associate justices overruled him Aug. 21 and ordered the monument removed.

Dobson even mentioned Land by name, saying that Land is a “great friend and I agree with him on almost everything. I just think he’s making a mistake here.”

But Land, noting that the issue “has sadly and sharply divided evangelical Christians,” said the court order must be followed and the judicial system allowed to work.

“Do evangelical Christians really want to say that this United States government is no longer a legitimate government and that we are no longer obligated to obey its courts when we disagree with their rulings?” Land wrote. “If so, let us understand it for what it is. It is insurrection. I want to reform this government, not rebel against it as an illegitimate government beyond repair.”

Land repeated his support for the public display of the Ten Commandments in public buildings and said he will “continue to do everything” he can “to encourage evangelical Christians to rise up and reform this government and its courts.”

Christians must not “support defiance of the law by officials sworn to uphold the law,” Land said. He then gave a list of hypothetical situations he said could occur if Moore’s actions are followed elsewhere.

“Would we have supported the Florida Supreme Court in defying the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling and continuing with yet another recount effort [in the 2000 presidential election] while the Electoral College was thrown into crisis by having perhaps two sets of electors from Florida and no agreed upon president?” Land asked.

“If the U.S. Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade, would we support the California State Supreme Court defying the U.S. Supreme Court and saying that since their state constitution explicitly guarantees the right to privacy, they planned to defy the federal government and continue to permit abortion on demand in California?”

Sekulow, chief counsel of the American Center for Law and Justice, has repeatedly said that while he supports the display of the Ten Commandments in public settings, he believes Moore’s lawyers should have requested a stay weeks ago in order to keep the monument in place. In a previous column, Land said he, too, would have taken a different strategy. Moore’s lawyers requested a stay following the deadline and were denied.

Robertson, founder and chairman of the Christian Broadcasting Network, said that while there is “no question” that the monument is constitutional, “we are people who respect the rule of law.”

“This tactic was designed to bring about a confrontation which was not necessary,” Robertson said. ” … Had they requested a stay, they would have gotten an automatic stay, then they would have had the chance to bring a legitimate appeal before the United State Supreme Court and it would have taken some time. In that, they could have framed an argument that might well have won.”

The Supreme Court and the U.S. House of Representatives both have Ten Commandments displays in their chambers, Robertson said.

If Moore had asked the Supreme Court, “‘How is what I’ve done in Alabama any different from what you do in your court?’ then the Supreme Court would have had to deal with it,” Robertson said.

Speaking to Sekulow, Robertson said that Moore’s lawyers have “left those of us like you and me who want the commandments up in public places in a quandary. I regret that this has been done. But I think people like Jim Dobson and others need to understand how judicial processes work. It’s just a question not of principle but of tactics. The tactics used by Judge Moore have just not been well advised in my opinion.”

But Moore said that federal justice Myron Thompson, who ordered the monument removed, “has absolutely no authority, power or jurisdiction in this area, and it’s that simple. He is coming down as an interior decorator of our courts.”

Dobson said he is concerned that the assault by judges on the Ten Commandments monument is “part of a larger plan to eliminate every vestige of faith or religion or reverence for God from the public square. And that’s where this is headed. If we don’t stop it here, they’re going to have to sand blast half the buildings in Washington.”

While saying he respects Land and Sekulow, Dobson said he wonders “if Dr. Land and Jay Sekulow are supportive of the American Revolution, where we rebelled against the British tyranny.”

Land, in his column, said he thinks America’s forefathers “were right [for rebelling] and I applaud my ancestors for supporting that effort. I do not believe that rebellion is always wrong, but it should not take place until all legal redress of grievances has been exhausted.”

Land also addressed those who argue that slavery would not have been abolished by following the rule of law.

“On the slavery issue, the U.S. Supreme Court did rule in the 1857 Dred Scott decision that slaves were property, not human beings, and thus had no rights,” Land wrote. “The response of the American people three years later was to elect a new president, Abraham Lincoln, who campaigned on a platform of no extension, and the eventual abolition, of slavery. So, America did obey the rule of law, used the ballot box and eliminated slavery.”

    About the Author

  • Michael Foust