Features

Judgment day nears

National | Alabama's Ten Commandments judge awaits day in court

Issue: "Federal Testing," Sept. 13, 1997

In spite of his newfound celebrity, Judge Roy Moore still eats at the Poor House.

A year after his fight to keep the Ten Commandments hanging on the wall became national news, this Alabama judge is more famous, more notorious than he ever expected: hero to Christians and conservatives, anathema to ACLU lawyers and self-proclaimed free thinkers everywhere. The New York Times visited earlier this year, and a crew from ABC's newsmagazine 20/20 was in Gadsden just last week. Judge Moore travels more, speaking to groups all over the nation, and sees far less of his wife and children.

Otherwise, his life is pretty much the same: cornbread and turnip greens for lunch at The Poor House restaurant, where cook Johnnie Mae Pinson has filled a bulletin board with newspaper and magazine clippings about one of her favorite customers. The Ten Commandments still hang in his courtroom, and he still invites Christian ministers to open court with a prayer, no matter what that judge down at the state capital says.

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His life is the same, and, to the dismay of his noisy critics, so is his passion for his fight, which is a fight for the right to acknowledge God in all areas of life, courtrooms included, as America's founders intended.

Next month, Judge Moore, who in his younger days was a cowboy in Australia and a champion martial-arts fighter in Texas, will move one round closer to what likely will become a title match at the U.S. Supreme Court. In October, Alabama Supreme Court justices will hear Judge Moore's case, which was filed against him by the ACLU and the Alabama Free Thought Association.

In late winter of this year, 15th Circuit Judge Charles Price ruled that the prayers had to stop and the Commandments must come down, unless Judge Moore hung other historic documents on the walls to create a display. Judge Moore refused to comply. The Alabama Supreme Court issued a stay on the orders and agreed to decide the case. Both sides have pledged to appeal the decision.

In Alabama, where Judge Moore's popularity is immense (thousands gathered at a rally at the state capitol in April), he is backed in his fight by Alabama's attorney general, U.S. Sen. Jeff Sessions, and Gov. Fob James, who attracted his own share of attention and flak when he promised to call out the National Guard to keep the Commandments hanging.

"The case has reached national prominence much quicker than I thought it could or would," Mr. Moore said, noting that in the last week he has received telephone calls from Belfast, London, and Sydney, Australia. "Not only are the eyes of the nation upon this, the eyes of the world are."

His critics, he says, are in the minority, "yet they exist at the highest echelons of government" and society.

Judge Moore's research of constitutional matters regarding the place of God in the United States is prodigious, his recall of the details immediate. He cites long passages of Scripture, law, and scholarly writings with no apparent effort. "Separation of church and state was never meant to separate God from government," he said in an interview with WORLD last year. "I think we are greatly deceived and have been greatly misled to believe that we can't, as a state, acknowledge the existence of God. The evidence is irrefutable. Our forefathers easily understood the First Amendment. They wrote it."

Part of his argument hangs by the tail of a comma. In 1954, he says, the U.S. Congress added the words "under God" to the Pledge of Allegiance and purposely omitted a comma or pause between "one nation under God" to declare that an acknowledgment of God is a bedrock of U.S. government and law.

Judge Moore, who will be in Washington this week to receive the Statesman of the Year award from the D. James Kennedy Center for Christian Statesmanship, is unwavering in his commitment, which, he emphasizes, is a commitment to God, not to the cause of acknowledging God.

The U.S. Supreme Court, in its decisions regarding God in public life, has erroneously re-interpreted the U.S. Constitution, he says. "I'm here. This is what God would have me do. He's given me this information in my head. I can see it. I'm sworn to uphold the Constitution. Does that mean I'm sworn to uphold someone's interpretation of the Constitution? What if they say slavery's OK, like they did in Dred-Scott? When someone's interpretation of the Constitution undermines the whole Constitution, should I obey that? I daresay not. God forbid."

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