March 24, 2012, New York Times, page A19, Years After Ten Commandments Fight, Ex-Justice Plans Return, by Robbie Brown,
Roy Moore was removed as chief justice of the Alabama Supreme Court after defying a federal order to remove a statue of the Ten Commandments from the courthouse.
Credit Cary Norton for The New York Times
BIRMINGHAM, Ala. — On the campaign trail, Roy Moore wears a metal pin of a cross on his suit jackets, praises “almighty God” and refers to the United States as a “Christian nation.”
But there is one demonstration of his faith that Mr. Moore, the Republican nominee for chief justice of the Alabama Supreme Court, promises not to make.
“No, I won’t bring back the Ten Commandments,” he said. “Not again.”
It has been nearly a decade since Mr. Moore, then chief justice, became a focus in the national debate over religious liberty by defying a federal order to remove a 5,000-pound granite statue of the holy tablets from his Montgomery courthouse. He lost the fight and was removed from the bench by a state ethics panel in 2003.
But Mr. Moore, 65, is on the verge of a political comeback. In an upset two weeks ago, he won the Republican nomination without a runoff, against two far better financed opponents, including the current chief justice.
Although Mr. Moore speaks about a wide range of conservative issues during the campaign, including repealing the federal health care law and reducing the nation’s debt, most questions from reporters and his audiences have to do with the Ten Commandments.
Mr. Moore, who carries a highlighted, annotated copy of the judge’s order that removed him from the bench, is pleased to engage. “There’s nothing illegal in what I did,” he said in a recent interview after a campaign speech at a Birmingham country club. “Our money says ‘God’ on it. Our Pledge of Allegiance says ‘under God.” So tell me this: How can a chief justice not acknowledge the sovereignty of God?”
But how he acknowledges God is crucial, and he said there was little value in provoking another First Amendment fight by bringing back the monument. (It is on display at a church in Gadsden.) Asked how his Baptist faith would influence his rulings, Mr. Moore said he would apply the law in each case but believes that the Constitution was shaped by Christian principles.
Alabama, like 30 other states, elects Supreme Court justices, and Mr. Moore, who was not impeached, is still eligible to hold office. He received 50.3 percent of the primary vote, swept up by a tide of religious conservatives backing Rick Santorum in the Republican presidential contest.
“I don’t think many people went to the polls thinking about voting for chief justice,” said William H. Stewart, a political scientist at the University of Alabama. “But everybody knows the Ten Commandments judge, and when they had the opportunity to put the ‘C.J.’ back before his name, they took it.”
Mr. Moore has few admirers among Alabama’s legal establishment. In a recent survey of 351 lawyers by the Mobile Bar Association, he received only three votes for the candidate “best qualified to serve” as chief justice.
But that has little influence on Colean Black, 48, a Republican and manager at a natural gas company. Ms. Black said she voted for Mr. Moore because of his moral character. “This is a person who stood up for his personal convictions, even when it cost him his job,” she said after hearing him speak on Wednesday. “I’m Christian, and I know that we are all put through trials. He can stand up under pressure.”
Others find Mr. Moore’s blend of church and state off-putting. Richard Berliner, 68, a Democrat and university administrator in Birmingham, told Mr. Moore to his face at a campaign event that he believed the Ten Commandments showdown was “a fiasco, embarrassing to the state of Alabama and an expensive process.”
“Are you really running to make another political statement and drag us through this again?” Mr. Berliner asked. “Or are you running to uphold justice in the state of Alabama?”
Mr. Moore’s Democratic opponent in November will be Harry Lyon, a criminal defense lawyer who has run for different offices 10 times, has never won and is considered a long shot in the heavily Republican state
Mr. Lyon has also been charged with illegally pulling a gun on a neighbor (he was fined but denies guilt) and once joked that illegal immigrants should be publicly executed.
“It represents how far the Democratic Party has sunk in Alabama that these are our options,” Mr. Stewart said.
Since Mr. Moore’s showdown, the United States Supreme Court has issued major rulings about the legal right to place the Ten Commandments in government buildings. In 2005, it upheld a Texas court’s right to display the tablets among other historical judicial symbols but said a display in Kentucky crossed the line into inappropriate proselytizing.
Although Mr. Moore said he tires of talking about the Ten Commandments case, he he acknowledged its role in helping him win the nomination.
“The people were upset their votes were taken away,” he said. “The people didn’t unelect me, but it’ll be the people who vote me back.”
The Law Of Nature Being Co-Eval With Mankind Dictated By God Himself Is Of Course Superior In Obligation To Any Other. It Is Binding Over All The Globe, In All Countries, And At All Times. No Human Laws
The statue is now on display at a church in Gadsden, Ala. Credit Cary Norton for The New York Times