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Court Won't Hear Alabama Justice's Appeal Over Ten Commandments

November 04, 2003|David G. Savage | Times Staff Writer

WASHINGTON — Alabama Chief Justice Roy Moore on Monday lost his bid to enlist the Supreme Court in support of his campaign to keep the Ten Commandments on display in the state courthouse.

Without comment, the justices refused to hear Moore's final appeal of rulings that required him to remove the 5,300-pound monument from the rotunda of the state Judicial Building in Montgomery.

The action came as no surprise. The justices had turned away an earlier emergency appeal from Moore, who was suspended in August, accused of violating judicial ethics by failing to comply with a federal judge's order that the monument be removed.

The 1st Amendment forbids the government to take actions "respecting an establishment of religion," and the high court has interpreted that to mean religious symbols may not be displayed prominently in public buildings if they are meant to endorse or promote religion.

In 1980, the high court struck down a Kentucky law requiring that the Ten Commandments be posted in all school classrooms. In 1989, the justices ordered city officials in Pittsburgh to no longer display a Nativity scene in City Hall during the Christmas season.

Two years ago, the court upheld a ruling in an Indiana case that required city officials to remove a Ten Commandments plaque in front of the City Hall in Elkhart.

Moore, who in 2000 campaigned for office as the "Ten Commandments judge," argued that as a matter of state's rights and religious rights, he was empowered to prominently display the sacred script. Lawyers for the American Civil Liberties Union challenged his action, and a federal judge ordered Moore to remove the monument. The 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Atlanta upheld that order, and the monument was moved in late August to a storage area.

In his appeal, Moore said a federal judge could not "abridge the right of the people [of Alabama], through their elected representative -- the chief justice -- to acknowledge God as indispensable to the administration of justice."

"The 10th Amendment reserves to the people of the State of Alabama the right to constitute their state government under God," he said.

In the past, the U.S. Supreme Court's own chief justice, William H. Rehnquist, has disagreed with rulings forbidding the display of the Ten Commandments, and he has been joined on several occasions by Justices Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas. But in Monday's order, Moore's appeal was dismissed without dissent.

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