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Ala. chief justice vows to keep Ten Commandments monument

Federal court says presence of statue violates church-state divide

Chief Justice Roy Moore speaks to the media on Wednesday.
Chief Justice Roy Moore speaks to the media on Wednesday.

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• 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals Opinion: Glassroth v. Moore  (FindLaw, PDF)external link

(CNN) -- The chief justice of the Alabama Supreme Court vowed Wednesday to keep fighting to keep a 2 1/2-ton monument bearing the Ten Commandments in the rotunda of the Alabama State Judicial Building.

"We must defend our rights and preserve our constitution," said Justice Roy Moore, speaking in Montgomery, Alabama. "For the federal courts to adopt the agenda of the ACLU (American Civil Liberties Union) and to remove the knowledge of God and morality from our lives is wrong."

Moore's attorney said no decision had been made yet on whether to ask a federal appeals court for a rehearing or appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court.

In the meantime, the monument will remain in place, according to Moore's attorney, Philip Drake, because the order to remove it was stayed pending appeals.

The 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Atlanta, Georgia, ruled unanimously Tuesday that Moore violated the constitutional separation of church and state by installing the monument.

The ruling, which compared Moore to segregationist Southern governors of the past who refused to integrate college campuses even after federal court orders to do so, predicted that if Moore appeals to the U.S. Supreme Court he would lose.

"If necessary, the court order will be enforced. The rule of law will prevail."

But Moore insisted he is upholding the law. "The rule of law must prevail in this case," he said.

Clash over interpretation of First Amendment

start quoteAny notion of high government officials being above the law did not save those governors from having to obey federal court orders, and it will not save this chief justice from having to comply with the court order in this case.end quote
-- 11th U.S. Circuit Court ruling

Moore's attorney said the three lawyers who sued to have the monument removed were off base in their argument.

Their suit, said Drake, contends having the stone monument in the Supreme Court building violates the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. But he contended the First Amendment says only that Congress shall make no law "respecting the establishment of religion."

"This monument is not a law respecting the establishment of religion," Drake said.

In their ruling, the judges of the 11th Circuit took a different view.

"If we adopted his position, the chief justice would be free to adorn the walls of the Alabama Supreme Court's courtroom with sectarian religious murals and have decidedly religious quotations painted above the bench," the three-judge panel said in its 50-page ruling.

"Every government building could be topped with a cross, or a menorah, or a statue of Buddha, depending upon the views of the officials with authority over the premises."

Lawyers initially filed suit over monument

The 5,280-pound granite monument sits in the building that houses the Alabama Supreme Court, state law library, state appeals courts and judicial offices.

It is placed directly across from the main entrance, in front of a plate-glass window with a courtyard and waterfall behind it. The monument is about 3 feet wide, 3 feet deep and 4 feet tall, with two tablets on the top engraved with the commandments.

The Ten Commandments memorial in the lobby of the rotunda at the State Judicial Building in Montgomery, Alabama.
The Ten Commandments memorial in the lobby of the rotunda at the State Judicial Building in Montgomery, Alabama.

Moore had it installed after business hours on the night of July 31, 2001, without consulting any of the other justices. No public funding was used to pay for it.

"All decisions regarding it were made by him," Tuesday's ruling said.

In his speech unveiling the monument, Moore said it was one "depicting the moral foundation of our law." He called its placement "fitting and proper."

The monument has become a fixture within the building, sometimes drawing lawyers and tourists there to pray at the site.

But three lawyers who do not consider the monument appropriate sued. After a seven-day bench trial, a federal district court agreed and ordered its removal, prompting Moore to file his appeal.

Moore has long been associated with the Ten Commandments. When he began his judicial career at a circuit court in Etowah County he hung a hand-carved, wooden plaque of the Ten Commandments behind the bench in his courtroom.

During his campaign for the chief justice position in November 2000, his campaign committee ran television and radio commercials and posted billboards calling him the "Ten Commandments Judge."

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