Cover Story

Alabama Governor Fob James: leader of the resistance

The upcoming clash with judicial tyranny

Issue: "Drawing the Line," Feb. 22, 1997

Try to take the Ten Commandments out of this courtroom, Gov. Fob James declared to Alabama Circuit Judge Charles Price, and you'll be staring down the barrel of a few dozen M-16s. Even though he is fighting on a different issue with a very different moral base, Gov. James's position evoked the memory of George Wallace's stand in the schoolhouse door more than 30 years ago. The governor has planted his feet, crossed his arms, and dared a judge to enforce his ruling that the Ten Commandments must go. The governor promised that the National Guard and the Alabama State Police would be there to greet the judge or his enforcers, unless President Clinton federalizes the guard.

This declaration of solidarity with an Alabama circuit judge is the latest escalation in a battle that Judge Roy Moore has been waging for no less than the right to acknowledge God in public life. This simmering set-to has been on the back burner for months, but with the governor's defiant statements, the eyes of the nation have been drawn once again to the Heart of Dixie, nerve center for so many events from the birth of the Confederacy to the Civil Rights revolution.

The governor, whose actions often are ridiculed and lampooned in the state press, has joined Judge Moore as a folk hero of sorts to those who believe a liberal reading of the Constitution is illegally eliminating God from daily life. The governor's renown--and with it support for his cause--is spreading. In the four days after Gov. James uttered his fighting words, he and Judge Moore went on national network television; big papers like the Los Angeles Times and The New York Times called; the state's attorney general appeared on James Dobson's radio program.

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Already, Judge Moore had said the judge could take his job or jail him for contempt, but as long as he was in the courtroom, the Ten Commandments would stay. And now the governor and the judge wait for whatever is next. Will Judge Charles Price call their bluff? And--important for the judge to consider--is Gov. Fob James bluffing? Not likely.

The stage for this round was set on Feb. 5, when Gov. James attended a Southern Baptist Convention prayer luncheon in Montgomery. Richard Land of the SBC's Christian Life Commission was a guest speaker.

Gov. James didn't go to utter fighting words about prayer or the Ten Commandments. He was there to discuss his legislative agenda. He listened to Mr. Land talk about the bad effect of the Supreme Court decision to ban prayer from school, and how the lack of Christian response had facilitated the change.

As he listened, the conservative former Democrat's mind turned to the battle raging in his own state over whether Judge Moore should be allowed to hang the Ten Commandments on his courtroom wall and invite local clergy to lead prayers in his courtroom.

Judge Price had ruled that the Ten Commandments could stay--only temporarily, it turned out--but that the prayers had to stop immediately.

Mr. Land, the firebrand executive director of the Christian Life Commission, told the group that America is in danger of collapsing into amorality. He encouraged people to work through government to keep the country on a moral path. As Mr. Land exhorted his listeners to become involved and stymie the unwarranted intrusion of the government into spiritual affairs, Gov. James thought to himself: &quotWe've been down this road before, and enough is enough."

So when the two-term Republican governor stood to speak, he took his cue from Mr. Land and drew his line. &quotIt is not often in our lifetime that you can heed a lesson of history," he said, &quotbut I say to my fellow Alabamians at this moment, the only way those Ten Commandments and that prayer will be stripped from that court is with the force of arms. Make no mistake about that statement."

Fob James says now that he didn't expect his words to go much beyond the room, but go they did, and within 24 hours newspaper and TV reporters were calling from all corners of the country. &quotI thought I was just stating a plain, constitutional principle," he says, &quotand a duty of any office holder to uphold the constitution."

Roy Moore, the man who originally ignited this debate, is a district judge in the northeast Alabama town of Gadsden, in Etowah County. (See WORLD's profile, Sept. 21, 1996.)

In 1980, he made a wooden plaque to resemble two stone tablets and, with a wood-burning tool, etched the Ten Commandments into the wood. He displayed the plaque in his home and later in his law office. When he became a judge in 1992, he hung the plaque in his courtroom.

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