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Judges battle over courtroom display of Ten Commandments

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3/31/98 - Update


Associated Press Writer

_ Alabama's attorney general says he will ask the state Supreme Court to intervene in a dispute over a Ten Commandments display behind the bench of a Gadsden courtroom.Attorney General Bill Pryor and Gov. Fob James on Monday again closed ranks with Etowah Circuit Judge Roy Moore in fighting an order to change the Ten Commandments display and discontinue prayers to open court sessions.

A Montgomery circuit judge, Charles Price, issued an order Monday that said the display would have to be changed so not to be "purely religious'' . With James again threatening to use the National Guard or state troopers if necessary to defend the Ten Commandments display, Pryor verbally assailed the American Civil Liberties Union of Alabama.Pryor, like James a Republican, said it was astounding that a circuit judge in Montgomery was being asked to "redecorate'' a courtroom in Gadsden."That's the triviality that ACLU litigation has brought us to,'' Pryor said, although he also referred to the dispute as potentially rocking the foundations of the judiciary.An ACLU attorney described Price's ruling as "a major victory for the Constitution and the rule of law.''

"We fervently hope that Judge Moore and his defenders will choose to comply with the court's orders and obey the rule of law,'' said ACLU attorney James Tucker.Price, who traveled to Gadsden to view the display for himself last week, said the placement of the wooden Ten Commandments plaque was unacceptable.Moore "has unequivocally stated that the plaques are not in the courtroom for a historical, judicial or educational purpose, but rather, and clearly to promote religion,'' wrote Price, who previously said the plaque could remain.Price said the plaques violate both the U.S. and Alabama constitutions, but he offered a compromise, citing a federal precedent:

Moore can add nonreligious items to create a larger display incorporating the Ten Commandments. Otherwise, the plaques must come down, he said. The Alabama state seal, a framed document and a portrait already hang in Moore's courtroom along with the plaque, which the judge made himself. Price gave Moore 10 days to comply. Pryor said he was hopeful his appeal to the state Supreme Court would put an end to the dispute.A supporter of Moore, Dean Young, said the proposed modification was unacceptable to the judge.

Young said nothing would be changed."I think this shows poor judging on Judge Price's behalf,'' said Young, executive director of the Christian Family Association.James vowed last week to use all the power of his office to maintain the judge's ability to practice his religious beliefs in the courtroom.James, speaking on his weekly radio program Monday afternoon, said he was hopeful that Price's order would be overturned. "I do not anticipate that it will be upheld,'' he said.James again vowed to "use the National Guard and state troopers to prevent the removal.'' But the governor has said he expects the case to be on appeal for years, possibly beyond the end of his term in 1998.Price's decision was in response to a request for rehearing by the ACLU, which initially challenged the Ten Commandments display and Moore's practices of opening court sessions with prayer.Price earlier ordered Moore to stop opening court sessions with prayers, a decision Moore is appealing to the state Supreme Court. The justices last week allowed the prayers to continue while they decide the case.

Etowah County Sheriff James L. Hayes opened a jury session Monday with prayer at the request of Circuit Judge William Rhea.Price originally ruled the carving was not an unlawful promotion of religion, but he changed his mind after visiting the courtroom. Price's order noted he had been deluged with calls and letters from people urging him to "save the Ten Commandments,'' but he wrote the Old Testament laws "are not in peril.'' "They may be displayed in every church, synagogue, temple, mosque, home and storefront. They may be displayed in cars, on lawns and in corporate boardrooms,'' he said. "Where this precious gift cannot and should not be displayed ... is on government property.'' The attorney general said that bigger than the judge's constitutional right to freedom of expression is the issue of "whether any acknowledgement of God by government is unconstitutional.'' Pryor described the Ten Commandments as the "cornerstone of law of western civilization.''

AP-CS-02-12-97 1328EST


ARTICLE: Are the Ten Commandmentscrlogo_sm.gif (5242 bytes) Unconstitutional?

May/June 1997  


HR 359 - Moore, Judge Roy; urge support

First Reader Summary

A RESOLUTION urging support for Judge Roy Moore; and for other purposes.

01/23/1998 17:37 EST

Ala. Judge Can Hang 10 Commandments
Associated Press Writer MONTGOMERY, Ala.

(AP) -- The Alabama Supreme Court rejected a religious-freedom lawsuit on technical grounds Friday, allowing a circuit judge to continue displaying the Ten Commandments behind the bench and conducting prayers before court. The high court said Gov. Fob James and Attorney General Bill Pryor had no legal standing to bring the lawsuit, which sought to endorse Circuit Judge Roy Moore's religious practices. The court said the two sides had no legal disagreement, with both extolling Moore's practices. ``As between the state and Judge Moore, there exists no controversy, whatever -- not even a contrived one,'' the Supreme Court said. ``This is not what lawsuits are about.''

By dismissing the suit, the Supreme Court allowed the religious activities to continue, as the state had wanted anyway. However, someone who objects to the prayers and the posting of the Ten Commandments is still free to sue on grounds that they violate the constitutional separation of church and state. The Supreme Court said the state was seeking to use the court for an advisory ruling on the politically volatile issue. ``We will not, however, allow the judiciary of this state to become a political foil, or a sounding board for topics of contemporary interest,'' Cook wrote. The governor and the attorney general had argued that the posting of the Ten Commandments is commonplace in public buildings and is not a coercive practice that violates the separation of church and state. The court also rejected a related challenge in the legally contorted case. The American Civil Liberties Union of Alabama and the Alabama Freethought Association had sued Chief Justice Perry Hooper, contending he had the power to stop Moore's practices. But the Supreme Court said that under state law, the chief justice cannot intervene.

Copyright 1998 Associated Press. All rights reserved.
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