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Defiance Over the Ten Commandments

Alabama's chief justice has 'no intention' of removing monument, despite judge's order.

August 15, 2003|Ken Ellingwood | Times Staff Writer

ATLANTA — The chief justice of Alabama's Supreme Court said Thursday that he would defy a federal judge's order to remove a Ten Commandments monument that sits in the rotunda of the state Judicial Building in Montgomery.

Chief Justice Roy Moore said he had "no intention" of removing the 5,300-pound monument before the Wednesday deadline imposed by U.S. District Judge Myron H. Thompson. "This I cannot and will not do," Moore said during a news conference.

He argued that the U.S. courts had no authority "to tell the state of Alabama that we cannot acknowledge God as the source of our justice system." The state's Constitution, he noted, invoked "the favor and guidance of Almighty God."

The decision not to obey sets the stage for a longer legal battle over the 4-foot-tall monument that he had erected in the rotunda one night two years ago. Moore plans to appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court.

His defiance in the face of prior court orders has made him a hero in the eyes of many evangelical Christians, who have flocked to the site to pray and show their support for the statement of religious faith.

Critics view the monument as an inappropriate -- and unlawful -- use of public facilities for religious purposes. Moore's latest statement brought sharp criticism from the plaintiffs who filed the lawsuit asking that the granite monument be removed.

"It's a sad day when a judicial officer says that he's not going to comply with a court order. It's pretty bizarre," said Richard Cohen, general counsel of the Southern Poverty Law Center, which is involved in the lawsuit.

Cohen said that shortly after Moore's comments, the legal group filed a complaint with the state's Judicial Inquiry Commission -- the body overseeing judges' conduct -- charging that by defying a court ruling, Moore was in violation of basic judicial ethics.

Thompson imposed the deadline for removal Aug. 5 after Moore lost an appeal to the U.S. 11th Circuit Court of Appeals. It was Thompson who ruled in November that the monument violated the Constitution because it amounted to a year-round religious display meant to promote Moore's religion.

Thompson also indicated that he would impose fines on the state of up to $5,000 a day if the monument is not taken down. Thompson underscored that point by serving the other members of the state's Supreme Court and top state officials with the removal order.

One of those officials, Atty. Gen. Bill Pryor, said Thursday that he planned to use his authority to make the state comply with the injunction.

"Although I believe the Ten Commandments are the cornerstone of our legal heritage and they can be displayed constitutionally as they are in the U.S. Supreme Court building, I will not violate or assist any person in the violation of this injunction," Pryor said in a prepared statement. He added: "In this controversy, I will strive to uphold the rule of law."

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