Features

A monumental day

National | TEN COMMANDMENTS: Protesters displayed a mixture of noisy indignation and quiet resignation as the Alabama monument was hydraulically hoisted, palleted, and rolled away. The controversy won't budge that easily

Issue: "As the West burns," Sept. 6, 2003

Don Spears got to Montgomery just in time. As he drove up Interstate 65 from Pensacola, Fla., on Tuesday night, he wasn't sure what he would find at the Alabama state courthouse or how long he'd have to stay there. He just knew he wanted to show his support for suspended Alabama Supreme Court Justice Roy Moore. He wanted to make his voice heard.

He didn't have to wait long. On Wednesday morning (Aug. 27) workers from an out-of-state moving company-no Alabama concern would touch the project-arrived with crowbars and a hydraulic hand truck. They pried the engraved tablets from the top of the monument and hauled off the 5,000-pound granite base, to the court's press room, ironically enough. Officials said it would remain there behind closed doors until they could decide what to do with it.

As the monument was dismantled, the crowd outside reacted with dismay. Many had been in Montgomery for a week, believing their presence and their prayers might somehow thwart a federal court order. Most of the protesters prayed quietly in small groups and listened to the Psalms being read at a microphone.

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"I think it's good that the people have come out to take a stand. This may awaken the sleeping Christians," said William Allen Church of Charlotte, N.C. "Without the Ten Commandments, there's no moral basis for our law. It's been the basis for our decision making. And no matter how emotional we get, we have to carry the faith."

A few in the crowd seemed more intent on showing their frustration than their faith, however. "Put it back! Put it back!" shouted Rhode Islander Bob Gionet, who linked arm-in-arm with three other men. Occasionally the Psalm-readers would ask the chanters to quiet down. They refused.

Mr. Spears of Pensacola, dressed in tight jeans and a button-down shirt emblazoned with the American flag, characterized some of his fellow protesters as "a bunch of effeminate wimps, trying to read Psalms and pacify everybody." He had another solution, a state militia: "The Second Amendment is in there to stop tyranny like what happened today. The federal government has no right to tell the sovereign state of Alabama what to do."

Mr. Gionet used vacation days and a one-way ticket from Rhode Island to add his voice to the chorus of support for Judge Moore. Like Mr. Spears-and many others in the crowd-he couldn't say exactly how the monument should have been saved. He just knew the anger and despair he felt inside. "I believe it's gotten way out of control," said the middle-aged protester in a Boston Red Sox jersey. "For me it's about the breakdown of my country. Those people at the ACLU, they're out to destroy my country.... I really hoped there would be more people here."

Some local ministers echoed that sentiment. "I think we've come upon something where we need to obey God's laws and not the laws of man," said Pastor Barry Jude of Montgomery's Heritage Baptist Church. Mr. Jude said he was disappointed by the lack of local support for Judge Moore: "It's saddened my heart that some of the local pastors haven't taken a bigger role. It seems like mostly outside groups."

But if the turnout was lighter than expected, it may have been because the controversy had split the outside Christian groups that often speak with a single voice on matters of church and state (see sidebar). While James Dobson, for instance, weighed in with support for Justice Moore, Richard Land, head of the Southern Baptist Convention's Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, urged obedience to civil authorities. A scheduled Dobson appearance and speech in Montgomery would be better attended. And activist Pat Mahoney vowed in The New York Times to "call everybody we know" to boost the crowds outside the Alabama Supreme Court building.

Although the monument is now out of sight, the controversy is unlikely to be out of mind anytime soon. Bob Riley, Alabama's Republican governor, said in a statement that he hoped the monument's removal would be "brief and temporary," with the U.S. Supreme Court ordering it moved back.

-with reporting by John Dawson in Montgomery

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