Justice's Memo On Recusal
Upsets Moore's Backers
The Associated Press
April 23, 1997
Gadsen, Alabama -- An Alabama Supreme Court justice with a Bible verse on his office wall is considering removing himself from a Gadsden judge's Ten Commandments case, a move criticized by a group that supports courtroom religious practices.
Justice Gorman Houston sent a memo April 14 to all attorneys involved in the lawsuit over Etowah County Circuit Judge Roy Moore's courtroom prayers and Ten Commandments display, saying he has had a framed Bible verse hanging on his chamber wall since 1985.
Christian Family Association Director Dean Young, in a news conference at the county courthouse Tuesday, said Houston seemed to be inviting the American Civil Liberties Union to file a motion seeking his removal. Young said it's comparable to a judge recusing himself from the case because he goes to church.
But Joel Sogol, a Tuscaloosa attorney working with the ACLU in opposing Moore's courtroom religious practices, said he didn't think the verse would lead to a recusal motion since there's a difference between a personal office and a public court. But he said Houston did the right thing in notifying the parties.
The Supreme Court is currently reviewing Moore's appeal of lower court rulings requiring him to stop opening court sessions with prayer and to remove or alter a display of the Ten Commandments in his courtroom. It has put both rulings on hold pending its decision.
In the memo, Houston said the Old Testament quotation was given to him by a friend and can be seen by anyone visiting his chambers.
"It is as prominently displayed as the portrait of my favorite Supreme Court justice, Oliver Wendell Holmes. No one has asked me to remove 'Micah's Verse' from my chambers," he wrote.
"I do not believe that this will have any effect on my ability to keep the balance nice, clear and true in the above-referenced case; however I did think that the attorneys for the parties should know this, in case they feel that this may be a ground for recusal," Houston said.
He asked attorneys to notify him by April 29 if they felt the matter required his recusal.
Young, whose association has filed a friend-of-the-court brief supporting Moore's side of the lawsuit, said a Bible verse hanging on a wall isn't the same thing as a judge reviewing a case involving a relative or a close friend.
"I find it shocking he would bring this matter up," Young said.
Sogol said he had not discussed it with the other attorneys opposing
Moore but that he felt no recusal motion was likely. He said he has a verse
from the Book of Deuteronomy hanging on his own wall.
PSC Decides to Display
The Associated Press
April 23, 1997
MONTGOMERY -- The Public Service Commission, which regulates power, gas and telephone companies in Alabama, has decided it needs a display of the Ten Commandments on its wall.
The commission voted 3-0 Monday for a printed version or some kind of display of the Ten Commandments to be placed at the agency's headquarters, probably in the PSC's hearing room, said commission spokesman Jim Tolbert.
Commissioner Jan Cook proposed the resolution, which was adopted by PSC President Jim Sullivan and Commissioner Charles B. Martin.
Tolbert said Tuesday that Cook, who has been on the PSC seven years, said she just felt it was "the right time" to put up the display.
Cook, a Democrat, made the proposal in the wake of a rally at the Capitol earlier this month on behalf of Etowah County Circuit Judge Roy Moore, a Republican who conducts Judeo-Christian prayers and hangs a Ten Commandments display in his courtroom. The rally also was in support of Republican Gov. Fob James, who has promised to call out the National Guard if appeals courts order Moore to halt the religious practices in his courtroom.
The PSC traditionally opens every meeting with a prayer. Tolbert said
many Protestant denominations and Roman Catholics have given the prayer
but he did not recall if Jewish clergy or Muslims had done so. Moore has
been criticized for saying he would not invite a Muslim or non-Judeo-Christian
faith to give the courtroom prayer.
Judge Price Wins
Profiles In Courage Citation
by Conrad Goeringer
from AANEWS by American Atheists
Judge Who Defended First Amendment in Moore
Receives Profiles in Courage Award
April 24, 1997
Judge Charles Price, the man who ordered an end to prayer and Ten Commandments postings in Alabama courtrooms -- and in the process became the target of religious protesters and even a non-binding resolution in the U.S. Congress -- has been chosen for the John F. Kennedy Profiles in Courage Award.
Associated Press reports that Price, 56, received a phone call from Caroline Kennedy notifying him that he was a recipient of the annual prize. Price is from Montgomery, Alabama. After receiving a law degree from George Washington University, he went on to become the state's first black district attorney in 1974, and the first black circuit judge after being appointed to that post in 1983.
But it was Price's ruling in the case of Etowah County Judge Roy Moore which propelled the jurist into the national media spotlight. The American Civil Liberties Union, acting on behalf of the Alabama Freethought Association, challenged Moore's practice of beginning court proceedings with a Baptist-orchestrated prayer, and posting a hand-carved plaque of the Ten Commandments above his dais. In two separate decisions, Judge Price declared both the prayer and the Decalogue to be unconstitutional violations of the First Amendment. Although Price is a steward with St. John African Methodist Episcopal Church, he took a strict state-church separationist position on the Moore case. He wrote:
"The court states ... to those who have asked the court by phone calls, individual and multiple signature letters, and postcards to 'save the Ten Commandments,'...that the Ten Commandments are not in peril. They are neither stained, tarnished, nor thrashed. They may be displayed in every church, synagogue, temple, mosque, home and storefront. They may be displayed in cars, on lawns, and in corporate board rooms. Where the precious gift cannot and should not be displayed as an obvious religious text or to promote religion is on government property (particularly in the a courtroom)."
The decision outraged religious and political interests throughout the state; and the Alabama prayer battle has become a rallying cry in the culture wars pitting the First Amendment against religious expression in government venues. The Price ruling prompted the formation of a "Save Our Commandments" coalition which held a rally on April 12 in front of the Alabama Capitol building in Montgomery. Governor Fob James has declared that he will call out the Alabama national guard, the state police and even the University of Alabama football squad if necessary to "resist" any court ruling that would end prayer, Decalogue display and other religious expression in courtrooms. The U.S. House of Representatives weighed-in with its own support for Judge Moore, and passed a resolution by a 295-125 vote supporting the posting of the Commandments in government buildings since they are "a declaration of fundamental principles that are the cornerstones of a fair and just society."
As of yesterday afternoon, many of Judge Moore supporters remained silent
on Judge Price's selection for the Profiles in Courage Award. The Gadsden
(Alabama) Times reported that "Dean Young, director of the Christian
Family Association and a leading supporter of Moore, declined comment."
Judge Moore, Ben
Franklin and History
by Larry P. Mundinger with Gonrad Goeringer
from AANEWS by American Atheists
April 22, 1997
The great state of Alabama is still recovering from that morning-after hangover following last week's enormous "prayer rally" in front of the State Capitol at Montgomery organized in support of Judge Roy Moore. You might recall that Moore, an Etowah County Circuit Judge, was sued by the Alabama Freethought Association for opening his judicial proceedings with a Baptist invocation, and posting a copy of the Ten Commandments above his bench. The Judge has belligerently defied a court order to "cease and desist" such practices, and insists that he'll be headed to jail, if necessary, before obeying any order which puts an end to prayer and religious postings in his court.
Alabama Atheist Larry Mundinger (who signs his e-mail: "behind enemy lines") was curious about one statement frequently made by Moore -- that Benjamin Franklin orchestrated prayer during sessions of the Constitutional Convention. This claim has appeared in literature distributed by various religious groups, including David Barton's "WallBuilders" organization. The statement is part of a larger collection of questionable quotes and citations which purport to demonstrate that America is a religious nation, specifically founded upon Christian ideology and principles.
Mr. Mundinger unearthed a letter he wrote to the Huntsville (Alabama) Times five years ago concerned with this claim. In light of the subsequent antics and statements by Judge Moore, perhaps it deserves another reading.
Associated Press writer George Cornell in the May 7, 1992 Huntsville Times made reference to Benjamin Franklin's impassioned plea for prayer during an impasse in the deliberations of the Constitutional Convention. Mr. Cornell wrote: "From then on, until the document was completed three months later, the Continental Congress began each day's work with prayer."
In addition to confusing the Continental Congress with the Constitutional Convention, Mr. Cornell has failed to check his "facts" with the historical record. The motion put forth by Mr. Franklin was seconded by Roger Sherman of Connecticut. The Convention, however, except for three or four persons thought that prayers were unnecessary. Mr. Williamson, of North Carolina, observed that everyone knew the reason for not engaging a chaplain; the Convention had no funds. After some debate, the Convention finally adjourned without any vote on the motion. James Madison later wrote that since Philadelphia was a Quaker city which did not permit legislative prayers this was a factor in letting the motion die. There appears to be evidence to support the rumor that Alexander Hamilton had remarked during the debate that the Convention was not in need of "foreign aid." Whatever the reason, our Constitution was born without benefit of clergy.
It should be noted that the Convention apparently felt that no clergyman could be induced to conduct invocations without payment. Also, in spite of persistent claims of the piousness of the framers of the Constitution, none was inclined to personally bear the cost of a chaplain or to lead the prayers.
Mr. Franklin was educated a Presbyterian but soon began to doubt the dogmas of that denomination, preferring to spend his Sundays studying. In his autobiography, he tells of reading at the age of fifteen some books arguing against Deism but found the arguments of the Deists much stronger and "soon became a thorough Deist." He supported the only Presbyterian church in Philadelphia, but seldom attended, admitting to five Sundays in succession being his record. In a letter to Ezra Stiles, President of Yale, dated March 9, 1790 he wrote:
"As to Jesus of Nazareth, my Opinion of whom you particularly desire ... I have, with most of the present Dissenters in England, some Doubts as to his Divinity; tho' it is a question I do not dogmatize upon, having never studied it, and think it needless to busy myself with it now, when I expect soon an Opportunity of knowing the Truth with less Trouble."
A little over a month later, on April 17, 1790, Mr. Franklin died at the age of 84.
-- Larry P. Mundinger
James: Threat Was to
Force Clinton's Hand
by Brett Davis
Huntsville Times Washington Correspondent
April 25, 1997
Philadelphia -- Gov. Fob James said here today he threatened to call out the National Guard to protect a display of the Ten Commandments on an Alabama judge's wall to force President Clinton's hand.
James, speaking at the annual meeting of the Washington, D.C.-based Heritage Foundation, also suggested that justices on both the Alabama and U.S. supreme courts should be impeached if they order the Ten Commandments removed.
"It's going to take an order from the president of the United States to strip those Ten Commandments down" from the courtroom of Circuit Judge Roy S. Moore, James said, although he said "there's not going to be a physical battle."
James told members of the conservative think tank that his threat to use the guard and state troopers to keep the Ten Commandments displayed despite any court order otherwise is "symbolic." But he said it would force Clinton to get involved because the president would have to overrule James to get the display removed.
"Then the American people will see an American president strip the Ten Commandments from the courthouse in Etowah County," James said.
Or, he said, Clinton could refuse to go along with any U.S. Supreme Court ruling, which he said is the president's prerogative.
Either way, James said, "I believe that issue would then be elevated to an arena and fully debated by Congress, the president and the American people."
A state judge has ordered Circuit Judge Roy Moore to remove a hand-carved replica of the Ten Commandments from his wall or to change the way it's displayed.
Moore, who's appealing the decision to the Alabama Supreme Court, has refused, and has threatened to take the case to the U.S. Supreme Court if he loses in state court.
James created a furor when he threatened to call out the National Guard to keep any court order against Moore from being enforced.
"I did not mean that as an act of secession," James said of his threat. "We tried that before and it didn't work."
James decried what he called improper judicial activism. Citing George Washington, Abraham Lincoln and others, he said the courts are overreaching their constitutional boundaries.
"The stage is set for the Congress to use impeachment, diminishment and the power of the purse on judges and justices who subvert the Constitution," James told the group.
He told reporters afterward that if Moore's attempt to display the Ten Commandments gets to the U.S. Supreme Court and the court rules against Moore, he would consider that an impeachable offense because the Constitution does not specify a wall between church and state.
"I think Congress would have excellent grounds to impeach those members of the court that so ruled," James said. "I'm not going to let the courts get away with this like they've gotten away with a lot of stuff."
One of the groups that have been most vocal in opposing James and Moore in the Ten Commandments fight is Americans United for Separation of Church and State, a Washington watchdog organization.
Its executive director, Barry Lynn, said in a telephone interview that "it's an interesting claim for an elected official to believe the judiciary should not be independent."
It is a growing tenet of the religious right that the courts should be held accountable to public opinion for their rulings, Lynn said, although that runs counter to the separation of powers in the Constitution.
"He clearly does not have a clue how the federal courts work, or even the state courts," Lynn said of James.
James said impeachment is only one tool that Congress or the president could use to rein in the court system. He said the president could refuse to go along with an order, or Congress could cut the budget of the courts or even eliminate some of them.
"The impeachment is just one of many remedies available to them," James said. "I'm not saying that would be the right one, but historically that is a tool of which the congressional branch of government could use to keep the depositories of power equal between the three branches."
James said the issue goes beyond religious rulings, and involves any case where the court might overstep its bounds.
"If you assume that five justices on the Supreme Court can make a final policy decision for the American people, then the system is skewed," James said. "It's common sense."
James said allowing the courts to make major policy decisions -- such as the 1962 ruling that removed prayer from public schools -- takes the process away from the voters.
"If an American president issued an executive order that was very, very unpopular, or if Congress passed an act ... then they (the voters) have recourse at the ballot box," James said.
"When you go underground and change policy without that debate, then you subvert, in my judgment, the Constitution," James said.
He told the group that "a few justices on the Supreme Court in 35 years have illegally changed the cultural landscape of the country by judicial fraud."
He criticized Alabama native Hugo Black, the late Supreme Court justice, for his part in the 1962 ruling that outlawed organized prayer in public schools.
James said Black "coined a phrase" about the separation between church and state in that ruling. "That phrase is not in the Constitution," James said. "Black flat lied in that interpretation."
Lynn said, however, that the intent is there even if the wording is
Christian Family Association
Blasts Judge Price over
Profiles in Courage Award
by Conrad Goeringer
from AANEWS by American Atheists
There's More Meanness In The Alabama
Prayer War As CFA Threatens A Jurist Who
Ruled Against Religious Exercise In Courtrooms
May 5, 1997
The Christian Family Association has launched a new wave of threats and attacks against Judge Charles Price, selected recently as the recipient of the Profiles in Courage award and the man who ruled against prayer and other religious exercise in state courtrooms in Alabama. This is just the latest development in an emotion-charged case involving Etowah (Alabama) County Judge Roy Moore, who has garnered national attention and support from groups for his practice of opening courtroom proceedings with a Baptist invocation, and posting a plaque of the Ten Commandments above his bench. That practice was challenged by the American Civil Liberties Union on behalf of the Alabama Freethought Association. In November, Judge Price ruled that Moore's prayer was an unconstitutional endorsement of religious ritual. He later ruled that the Ten Commandments was also a violation of state-church separation.
But support for Moore has come not only from state government officials like Gov. Fob James, but from national religious and political groups as well. The U.S. House of Representatives passed a non-binding resolution last month in support of Ten Commandments displays in government venues, and a rally was later held on the footsteps of the state capitol in Montgomery. Gov. James has threatened to defy any federal order ending prayer and religious display, saying that if necessary he will mobilize the state guard, state police and even the University of Alabama football squad. Judge Moore says that he will resist any legal order ending his unconstitutional practices.
On April 23, the John F. Kennedy Library Foundation announced that Judge Charles Price was the annual recipient of its Profiles in Courage award, which included a $25,000 cash prize. But now, Dean Young of the Christian Family Association is threatening legal action if Price accepts the money.
"The Christian Family Association will immediately file a complain with the Alabama Judicial Inquiry Commission," Young told reporters, "to have Judge Price removed from office and stripped of his judgeship."
"Accepting money for his decision as a judge is wrong, and Judge Price knows it," charged Young.
But the Gadsden (Alabama) Times noted: "Moore's stand in the court case has brought in plenty of money as well, at first going into a local defense fund, then to the national Christian organization handling Moore's defense."
Price has announced that he will be donating the prize money to charity. Even so, the Alabama Ethics Commission voted 4-0 last week that Price must forfeit the $25,000 portion of the Profiles in Courage award which he is slated to receive on May 29 in a ceremony in Boston.
Commission debate raised serious problems with laws stipulating whether or not public employees may receive cash awards. One member asked, "If you're a researcher at the University of Alabama and you win the Nobel Prize (which carries a cash award), how is that different? If they win the Nobel Prize, they can't accept it?" That question prompted comment in editorials throughout the state press, and suggestions that the criticism of Judge Price was politically motivated. While Dean Young said that Price should not permitted to receive the money "for making a decision," the Gadsden Times noted that "even the judge's most harsh critic probably would not accuse him of having thought about possibly winning the honor (Profiles in Courage award) during his deliberations in the Judge Moore case."
Judge Price's selection for the Profiles award was based on his unpopular decision in the Moore case, and principled stand on behalf of state-church separation. It also resonates with other vignettes from Alabama history. Gov. James has compared his stand on behalf of prayer and public religiosity to the position of former state Governor George Wallace, who stood in the doorway at the University of Alabama in defiance of federal desegregation orders. Another Profiles recipient is Carl Elliott, former Alabama Congressman who is being honored for his stands on behalf of integration.
One problem the Commission's ruling does solve, though, pertains to
Governor James. He will now be permitted to accept reimbursement for transportation
and lodging provided by the Heritage Foundation, following a speech he
gave to that group's meeting recently held in Philadelphia.
Georgia's Moment of Silence
Statement issued by First Amendment Center
May 8, 1997
On Tuesday, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit ruled Georgia's "Moment of Quiet Reflection in School Act" does not violate the Establishment clause of the First Amendment.
The court determined that the 60 seconds of "silent reflection on the anticipated activities of the day" meets the three-prong test set forth by the U.S. Supreme Court in Lemon v. Kurtzman: the statute has a secular purpose, it doesn't promote or inhibit religion and it does not excessively entangle government with religion.
High school teacher Brian Bown challenged the 1994 law after he was fired for refusing to observe the moment of silence in his suburban Atlanta classroom. Bown's attorneys argued that the Georgia law excessively entangled public-school teachers with religious matters. Said the ACLU's Gerry Weber: "The court left open the fact that there may be applications of this statute that are unconstitutional, such as claims by students that they are being coerced into engaging in silent prayer."
Bown plans to appeal his case to the U.S. Supreme Court.
Judge Moore: More Important Than We Know?
Fate of Nation
Rests on His Case
The Controversial Alabama Judge Continues
Prayer, Ten Commandments Display
In His Courtroom
The Etowah County, Alabama judge who says he
go to jail if necessary in order to continue his policy of
orchestrated prayer and religious display in his courtroom
now says that the future of the nation rests on his case.
by Conrad Goeringer
with Larry Mundinger, Margie Wait and Barb Buttram
from AANEWS by American Atheists
May 29, 1997
Judge Roy Moore has attracted national controversy and support from Christian religious groups for his outspoken and -- say many -- unconstitutional practices. Moore was challenged in 1995 by the American Civil Liberties Union on behalf of the Alabama Freethought Association, for opening court proceeding with a Baptist invocation, and posting a hand-carved Ten Commandments plaque above his dais. When another judged ruled that both practices violated state-church separation, Moore refused to comply with a "cease and desist" order, and undertook an appeal to the Alabama Supreme Court. He has the outspoken support of Gov. Fob James, as well as the state's top law enforcement officer, Attorney General Bill Pyror. James has expressed backing for Moore and the prayer cause, and even threatened to resist by force, if necessary, any federal order which calls for the practices to end. James, who has declared that state-church separation is a myth with no basis in American history, has also threatened to mobilize the Alabama national guard, state police, and even the University of Alabama football squad if necessary.
Moore, James and Pryor were all supported in an rally last month that saw nearly 20,000 prayer enthusiasts gather in front of the state capitol building in Montgomery. Many persons throughout the crowd waved confederate flags, or religious kitsch replicas of Ten Commandment plaques, and chanted "Tear down the wall!" in reference to the "Wall of Separation" mentioned by Thomas Jefferson.
In papers filed yesterday with the Alabama Supreme Court, Moore declared that "The real issue in this case is whether the Ten Commandments, and the biblical values they represent, may continue to influence American law and policy, and whether we as a nation may continue to acknowledge God and implore His aid in performing our civic duties." Moore added, "The answer we give to this question may determine our survival as a nation."
Associated Press reports that "similar" filings have been made during the past week by Attorney General Pryor's office, which has been supporting Moore's legal efforts, and Gov. James as well.
Moore's declaration was in response to legal documents submitted by
dozens of Alabama scholars, and a group of clergy who disagreed with the
judge's strident views about the need to commingle religion and government.
On Tuesday, a group calling itself Alabama Christian Faith Alliance held
a news conference on the capitol steps to criticize the use of tax monies
for Moore's cause. Attorney Bob Beckerle stated that "We should show
respect for those with different beliefs, knowing that if we walked into
a courtroom which displayed portions of the Koran and opened with prayer
to Mohammed, we would be ill at ease and concerned whether we would get
More On Moore
Alabama Prayer Wars
Lead to Attacks
on Gays by CFA
"Homosexuals Not Welcome" Says Moore Supporter, Head Of "Family" Group
by Conrad Goeringer
with Barb Buttram and Larry Mundinger
from AANEWS by American Atheists
June 6, 1997
The flap over Alabama county Judge Roy Moore continues to get nastier, as supporters of the controversial jurist yesterday declared that "Homosexuals are not welcome in Gadsden, Etowah County or the State of Alabama." That was only the most recent belligerent assertion made by Dean Young, head of the Christian Family Association, and a major backer of Moore.
Moore has attracted national attention for his practice of opening his Etowah County, Alabama court proceedings with a Baptist prayer invocation. He also posts a copy of the Ten Commandments above his bench. Both the prayer and Decalogue display have been ruled unconstitutional, but the case is now on appeal to the Alabama State Supreme Court. For his efforts, Moore has attracted the support of religious groups throughout the nation, as well as extremist movements and leading political figures. Alabama Governor Fob James, a Moore supporter, has declared that he will mobilize the state National Guard, State Police and University of Alabama football squad in his policy of "total resistance" to any federal order banning the prayer or religious display in courtrooms.
As demonstrated during an emotional rally held in April on the steps of the capitol, the prayer question has touched on other culture-war issues as well.
Yesterday's remarks from Young came after a motion was made in the court of another Etowah County judge, William Rhea, to close a case involving a woman seeking custody of her two young daughters; the woman is currently involved in a lesbian relationship. The case had originally been brought before Judge Moore; but attorneys cited Moore's involvement with another ACLU-related case, specifically the one involving prayer and religious display. Moore was removed from the custody battle by the State Court of Civil Appeals, and later -- following an appeal by Moore -- through a ruling of the state Supreme Court. Young has maintained that Moore was pulled from the controversial case because of his "Christian beliefs."
Judge Rhea approved the motion to close proceedings on the custody case, and said that he will consider another motion to seal all records and rulings. That infuriated Dean Young, executive Director of CFA who accused Rhea of granting special privileges to homosexuals.
"Homosexuals are not welcome in Gadsden, Etowah County or the state of Alabama," Young told the Gadsden (Alabama) Times. He added that the state criminal code which covers "deviant" sexual intercourse "makes all homosexual conduct criminal."
Calling homosexuality perverse, he noted that God created Adam and Eve, not "Adam and Steve." He told reporters that the country was being compelled to accept homosexual behavior, and declared ""We (the American people) won't stand for it because we don't stand for homosexuality."
Fines For Ministers?
While supporters of Judge Moore maintain that state-church separation is "one directional," and only prevents government from dictating to religious organizations, the state's religious right has thrown its support behind another controversial proposal that also threatens First Amendment rights. Slated for introduction into the Alabama State Senate is a bill which would fine ministers up to $1,000 for performing a same-sex marriage ceremony. Identical legislation was introduced during the recent session by Sen. Roger Bedford, who declared that "As a conservative Democrat and a Christian, I'm opposed to same-sex marriages ... I think it is totally wrong." Bedford's measure brought rebuke from at least one minister, Rev. Jim Norris of Huntsville's United Church, who told reporters: "It feels to me like they (Bedford and supporters) are stepping over the line. The main concern I would have is that it would certainly serve to open up some doors to other legislation." Norris warned that "The state is not supposed to dictate to the church, and the church is not supposed to dictate to the state."
Bedford says that he will reintroduce his bill during an upcoming special legislative session. "I think (gay marriages) should be outlawed," the senator told the Huntsville Times on Wednesday.
Last year, Governor James signed an executive order prohibiting gay marriages and refusing to recognize those performed in other states.
In other news related to the Moore case, the National Clergy Council delivered a letter to the offices of Sen. Edward Kennedy yesterday, protesting the Profiles in Courage Award presentation to Circuit Judge Charles Price of Montgomery, Alabama. Price, a Baptist church deacon, reviewed the original complaint against Judge Roy Moore, and in two separate rulings declared that prayer in the courtroom and the display of the Ten Commandments violated laws pertaining to state-church separation. Rev. Rob Schenck, general secretary of the Clergy group, called the award "scandalous," charging that "The Kennedys apparently think that the country would be better off if we did not outlaw murder, adultery, lying and theft." Sen. Kennedy had praised Judge Price during the award ceremony named for his late brother, President John F. Kennedy. He added that his brother "would be proud that Judge Price has stood up for one of the most important constitutional provisions," referring to state-church separation.
The National Clergy Council, based in Washington, has been a vocal supporter
of Judge Moore, and paid for his trip to the nation's capitol where the
combative jurist was hosted by other religious groups and politicians.
The group says that it is concerned about "the moral deterioration
in American culture."
A Jewish Scholar Blasts
Christian Fundamentalists For
Peddling Replica Commandments
by Conrad Goeringer
from AANEWS by American Atheists
June 11, 1997
From those velvet paintings of Elvis to Nehru jackets and populuxe era bowling alleys, kitsch -- "artistic rubbish" -- has been one of the icons of modernist culture. Gillo Dorfles, author of the delightful "Kitsch, The World of Bad Taste," suggests that our penchant for kitsch is " a basically false interpretation of the aesthetic trends of (our) age." If so, kitsch runs rampant in religious iconography, where it occupies a full chapter of Dorfles's book, complete with photos of some of the most outrageous examples. From religious statuettes on the dashboard to clumsy, sentimental greeting cards, praying hands sculptures and even photo-reconstructions of questionable historical events (the nativity is a favorite), religious belief has been a traditional gold mine for the manufacture of kitsch iconography.
One doesn't have to venture to Jerusalem or Rome, though, to encounter true religious kitsch. An atrocious example of both history and artistic sensibility gone awry is available from Alabama, where supporters of Judge Roy Moore are raising money by selling 20-inch stone replicas of the Ten Commandments for just $149.95.
Judge Moore has attracted national attention for his controversial practices of beginning courtroom proceedings with a Baptist invocation, and posting some religious kitsch of his own -- a hand-carved Ten Commandments plaque -- above his bench. Both the prayer and the Decalogue plaque have been ruled unconstitutional, and Moore -- with the help of Alabama Governor Fob James -- has appealed to the state Supreme Court. The case has galvanized religious groups across the country, and organizations like the Christian Coalition, and the Alabama Christian Family Association have rushed to the Judge Moore's side.
CFA peddles the stone tablets through its Internet site, which also features a photo of Moore decked out in his judicial robes. A "beautiful full-color print of the Ten Commandments" is available for just $5, along with a Commandment lapel pin, five for only $19.95. Those not wishing to purchase the 20-inch Commandment plaques at $149.95 may buy "Decalogue lite" versions in smaller sizes (presumably with the same number of Commandments, though) priced at $24.95 or $49.95.
While the peddling of kitsch Ten Commandments plaques are part of a
holy calling for Judge Moore's supporters and other school prayer advocates,
they are "exploitation at its worst" according to Old Testament
scholar Leon J. Weinberger of the University of Alabama. He told reporters
that the Christian Family Association is attempting to make money from
a controversy "which shouldn't have been a controversy in the first
place." "The fact they're selling the Ten Commandments is ludicrous,"
charged Weinberger. "Talk about the moneychangers."
Moore Has Support In Prayer Battle
Support for James'
Remains High for Moore
by Conrad Goeringer
with Barb Buttram and Larry Mundinger in Alabama
from AANEWS by American Atheists
July 14, 1997
Public support for Alabama Governor Fob James may be eroding according to surveys, and legal experts continue to take the combative solon to task for his state's rights views on the Constitution. But a nationwide poll conducted by news organizations in conjunction with Ohio State University, shows that nearly two-thirds of sampled adults support Alabama Judge Roy Moore's efforts to display a copy of the Ten Commandments in his courtroom.
These are the latest developments in the "Alabama Prayer War" which has raged since 1995, when the Alabama Freethought Society challenged Etowah County Judge Moore for his controversial practice of opening court proceedings with a Baptist invocation, and posting a hand-carved plaque of the Ten Commandments above his dais. In November, both the prayer and the Decalogue display were ruled to be unconstitutional. That controversy has ignited an emotional debate throughout Alabama which has now spilled over to the national political scene; as a result, Judge Moore -- who says that he will resist any federal court orders to end the prayer or take down the Ten Commandments -- has attracted the support of religious groups including the Christian Coalition, and even a sympathetic, non-binding resolution from the U.S. Congress. Alabama Governor Fob James has weighed in as well, threatening to mobilize the state guard, police, and the University of Alabama football squad if necessary in order to combat any federal court rulings against prayer or the religious display.
Three weeks ago, James fired his latest salvo, sending a 34-page letter to U.S. District Judge Ira DeMent which argued that the Bill of Rights had no legitimate power within the boundaries of individual states. James specifically contended that federal courts have no jurisdiction over prayer or religious activities in public schools, and that the First Amendment was merely a restraint on the federal government, not on state officials.
It was DeMent, a Republican who served in the first James administration in the early 1980s, who ruled in 1993 that Alabama's school prayer law violated state-church separation.
In keeping with the national character of the prayer controversy, Gov. James distributed copies of his 34-page treatise on state's rights to a number of Southern governors and U.S. House Speaker Newt Gingrich.
Reaction: From Polite Refusal To "Laughable"
James' arguments to DeMent have drawn criticism even from conservative circles. Roger Pilon, a former Reagan White House officials who currently heads the Center for Constitutional Studies in Washington told Associated Press that the governor's tendentious arguments were "so far from being true as to be laughable." Others such as Charles Haynes of Vanderbilt University's Freedom Forum First Amendment Center argued with the facts which the governor used, and described James' 34-page missive as "amazing" and "dangerous." And Michael McConnell of the University of Utah College of Law said that while "I don't think there's anything wrong with criticizing the courts, there is something wrong with violence or threats of violence or refusals to comply with a lawful court order."
Meanwhile, Judge DeMent, a fellow Republican penned a brief five-line response to the governor, stating "I have read the letter several times and find it interesting. It evinces many hours of historical research ... Thank you again for writing to me." A spokesman for the governor's office describe DeMent's reply as "very polite."
James appears to be losing out in public opinion polls, though, despite his belligerent and combative defense of Moore and prayer in government venues. A study conducted by the Capital Survey Research Center shows that other Alabama officials have a more favorable rating than Gov. James; they include U.S. Senators Richard Shelby and Jeff Sessions, and even Lt. Gov. Don Siegelman. Still, forty-four percent gave positive marks to James, with forty two percent describing the governor's performance as unfavorable.
Judge Moore seems to enjoy broader support in his battle for courtroom prayer and religious display, despite his recent statements that the United States is supposedly founded upon a belief in a specific deity, i.e. the Christian flavor. A national poll released last week conducted by the Birmingham Post-Herald, Scripps-Howard News and Ohio State University, showed that nearly two-thirds of surveyed adults agreed with Moore's effort to display the Ten Commandments. The survey asked: "A Judge in Alabama has ordered the removal of a copy of the Ten Commandments handing in a courtroom, on the grounds that it violates the First Amendment ban against government promotion of religion. Do you think the Ten Commandments should be displayed or removed?"
Of the respondents, 64 percent said the Decalogue should remain, while only 25 percent supported the First Amendment state-church prohibition on such religious decorating.
Expect A Ruling
Moore's case is now on appeal to the Alabama State Supreme Court, which
earlier placed a stay on a lower court order to end the prayer in the courtroom
and remove the Decalogue plaque which had been hand-carved by the
Etowah County jurist. Oral arguments in that case may not take place until
October. But support for Moore is being channeled in other directions,
including efforts to enact a Religious Freedom Amendment which would legalize
prayer in schools and allow a wider range of religious activities which
involve government venues or sponsorship. Hearings on that measure are
scheduled in front of the House Judiciary Committee on July 22.
Ten Commandments Hoopla
in Charleston: Do as I Say,
Not as I Don't Know!
by Conrad Goeringer
from AANEWS by American Atheists
July 17, 1997
A lawsuit has been filed in Charleston, South Carolina contesting the recent County Council scheme to post the Ten Commandments in its chambers. That measure, enacted on May 20, was apparently in response to the controversy in Alabama where Judge Roy Moore remains defiant in his position on behalf of courtroom prayer and Decalogue posting. The plaintiffs in the Charleston suit are represented by American Civil Liberties Union and Americans United; one is a retired Baptist minister. The suit notes t+hat the Commandments display would involve the council in religious issues, and that some of the strictures are "outside the scope of secular law such as those compelling worship of and respect for a single deity, respect for the Sabbath and proscribing taking the name of the Lord in vain."
Dumb and Dumber, Times Ten?
Even more incredible, though, than the gross violation of state-church
separation is a story carried Tuesday in the Charleston Post & Courier
newspaper that none of the council solons who voted on behalf of the Ten
Commandments measure could list all of the Biblical edicts. One representative
recalled nine of the commandments, another was able to recite eight. Two
council members could list seven, and one council representative recalled
six Commandments correctly.