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Duck and cover

National | TEN COMMANDMENTS: The Supreme Court refused the Alabama Ten Commandments case, but with about two dozen similar cases unresolved across the country, the court won't be able to dodge the issue for long

Issue: "Soldiers in harm’s way," Nov. 15, 2003

It was a long shot to start with. The Supreme Court accepts only 1 percent of the 10,000 appeals it receives each year, and when a case is politically charged and legally divisive, the odds grow longer. Still, when the court announced without comment on Oct. 3 that it would not hear an appeal in a headline-grabbing Ten Commandments case, many conservatives were outraged.

"It seems that the Supreme Court is accelerating their rogue decisions which are intended to spite the opinions of the overwhelming majority of Americans," said Christian Coalition President Roberta Combs. "Today's decision-or nondecision-to refuse to consider Alabama Chief Justice Roy Moore's action putting a Ten Commandments monument in the judiciary building is just one more slap in the face of the American people."

For Mr. Moore, the legal options appeared to be exhausted. He called the decision a "disappointing day for the people of Alabama," and said he would temporarily shift his focus to saving his own job. After defying a federal judge's order to remove his 2 5-ton monument from the state judicial building, Mr. Moore was suspended from his job as Alabama's chief justice. A trial before a state ethics board, scheduled to begin Nov. 12, could make that suspension permanent. (A representative of Mr. Moore told WORLD his legal team would have no comment until after the ethics trial.)

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Despite the widespread outrage over the court's refusal to hear Mr. Moore's appeal, legal experts insisted the Ten Commandments issue was far from dead. "This was a setback for the specific case of Judge Roy Moore, but not for the Ten Commandments battle that's going on around the country," said Mathew Staver, president of Liberty Counsel, a religious-liberties legal-defense organization.

Mr. Staver has seen firsthand how disappointments can turn into victories. His organization appealed all the way to the Supreme Court over the right of a New York church to hold after-school clubs in public-school classrooms. Although the court declined to hear that case, two years later it accepted an appeal from the Good News Clubs involving exactly the same legal issues. The justices in that landmark case sided with the Good News Clubs, opening public-school classrooms across the country to religious organizations.

With up to two dozen Ten Commandments cases being litigated across the country, experts say it is only a matter of time until the high court can no longer duck the issue. "I predict that within the next 18 months the Supreme Court will grant review in one of the other cases making their way through the federal courts. Any one of them could hit the jackpot," said Benjamin Bull, chief counsel of the Alliance Defense Fund, which is involved with every such case currently in litigation.

"The Supreme Court's denial of certiorari in Judge Moore's case has little or no bearing on other cases that will inevitably land in the court's lap," Mr. Bull told WORLD. "The court may prefer to deal with this issue without the political pressure that was sure to follow Judge Moore's case."

After years of judicial indecision, however, political pressure may now be unavoidable. Rep. Robert Aderholt (R-Ala.) has about 70 congressional co-sponsors for a bill that would explicitly grant to the states the right to decide where the Ten Commandments could be displayed. Stripping jurisdiction from federal judges may seem like a long shot, but Jim Backlin, director of legislative affairs at the Christian Coalition, believes "this bill will get additional impetus after the court's decision yesterday" in the Moore appeal.

In other words, the Supreme Court may have dodged the issue, but the entire federal judiciary may yet find itself tripped up by the big granite monument.

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