Last month, the federal district court ordered Chief Justice Roy oore of the Alabama Supreme Court to remove a monument of the Ten Commandments from display in the state’s courthouse because the higher court determined the display to be in violation of the First Amendment’s prohibition against the establishment of religion. Moore refused to move the monument, defying the higher court order and the ruling of his eight associate justices.

The main issue here is not religious extremism, as Paul Kutner’s piece (“Church and State: When Each Goes Too Far,” The Hoya, Sept. 9, 2003, p. 3) suggested. It is not fair to characterize Moore and his supporters as “rightwing Christians” and compare the current situation with Alabama’s “previous experiments with exclusion, which started with slavery.” Also, he oversimplifies why the display is unconstitutional and why the federal court’s ruling is correct. The central problem is Moore’s own ambition interfering with his execution of the law, and misguided but otherwise well-meaning devout Christians trying to involve God more in the government, and thereby imposing values on others, without regard for the Constitution and people of other faiths.

The First Amendment bars any law prohibiting the free exercise of religion or respecting an establishment of religion. The monument establishes the Judeo-Christian faith as superior to others because the monument is of religious significance only to Christians and Jews. This invalidates the argument that the monument should stay because the Ten Commandments state “thou shall not kill,” and “thou shall not steal,” among other definitely positive directives. Those are incontrovertible, but the problem is with the first four Commandments: “I am the Lord your God; thou shall not make unto thee any graven image; thou shall not take the name of the Lord your God in vain; remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy.”

While reminding people not to kill or steal is appropriate in a courthouse, it is absurd for anyone to maintain that the part about not making a graven image has any relevance in a secular building of law. Does that mean Buddhists and Hindus are committing a crime every time they say their prayers? The display, in a public area, sends the wrong message – that people who do not follow the Judeo-Christian tradition are somehow sinners.

Another argument of monument supporters is the ubiquitous mentions of God in government and public places. They point to our money, the Declaration of Independence, the Pledge of Allegiance, the commencement of Court and Congressional sessions with prayer, the Supreme Court’s own mural depicting Moses and its opening declaration calling on God to bless the Court.

The reason why these references to God differ from the display of the Ten Commandments, and are therefore spared from being deemed insensitive toward any reasonable person, is that no specific deity is directly implied. The mural of Moses is historical, not religious, as it is surrounded by other portraits of lawgivers from the past. The Founding Fathers certainly were men of faith, and believed in the values of religion, not of any particular one but in general, to love one another and trust in a power higher than ourselves, whatever that may be.

While Moore had every right to disagree with the ruling, he must follow the orders handed down to him and his court. It has been said that Moore may be considering a run for governor, so we should be very suspicious when he says his reason for not removing the monument is his strong Christian faith. The Rev. Jerry Falwell, a prominent Evangelical minister and chancellor of Liberty University, predicts “I believe Chief Justice Moore, a hero in the state, will probably become the next governor or senator from Alabama.” Moore is probably trying to get publicity during the slow news period that is the dog days of summer. He is truly an embarrassment to the court, the bench, the bar and his state. Moore has violated his duty as an officer of the court to protect and defend the laws of the state of Alabama. He deserves whatever consequences he will face, whether it is being suspended, held in contempt or removed from the bench.

As for the so-called, “rightwing Christians,” the supporters of Moore are good people, not zealots. They are not hateful, intolerant or bigoted. Moreover, it is inappropriate to compare this issue to slavery because it denigrates the crime of slavery. Moore’s supporters truly want what is best for all the people of this country, and they think that is taking religious morals and ethics and inserting them in our laws, culture and schools. They view Hollywood, television and the music industry as being the causes of the erosion of traditional family values. Their goal of making America a more moral society is admirable; they are just doing it the wrong way.

The monument of the Ten Commandments clearly demonstrates an unconstitutional state favoritism of one religion over another. It is not part of any historical display and can understandably be regarded as imposing a system of beliefs on people in a public building. Sadly, Moore seems unable to grasp those concepts. He should put his own ego, ambition and faith aside and do what any judge should and must do: follow the law, even while personally disagreeing with it.

Daniel Egers is a freshman in the School of Foreign Service.

Have a reaction to this article? Write a letter to the editor.

Comments are closed.