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August 23, 2003
Column #1,147

Lex Rex or Judge Rex?

     When the American colonies broke free from England, the demand was for "Lex Rex," the rule of law, to replace the rule by a king.However, in Alabama this week, a judge named Roy Moore has decided to place himself above the law that he does not agree with. It is one thing when criminals ignore the law, but the Chief Justice of the Alabama Supreme Court?

     To the surprise of fellow judges, Justice Moore placed a two and a half ton granite monument inscribed with the Ten Commandments in the lobby of the Alabama Supreme Court one night. It was privately funded by people who agree with Justice Moore that the moral foundation of the state's law rests upon the Ten Commandments given to Moses by God.

     Further, Judge Moore made his reputation as a lower court judge by hanging the Ten Commandments in his courtroom. And he was elected to Alabama's Supreme Court pledging to bring the moral weight of Judeo-Christian ethics into that court. He has wide popular support.

     Of course, the ACLU objected, arguing that Justice Moore's action violated separation of church and state, and the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution's prohibition of government "establishing religion." ACLU won its suit in the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, a step down from the Supreme Court.

     Justice Moore was ordered by the 11th Circuit to remove the monument by Wednesday. He refused to do so. As a consequence, Alabama must pay a fine of $5,000 a day which will soon grow to $10,000 a day. The judge will not pay the fine, but Alabama taxpayers at a time the state is struggling with a $600 million deficit.

     "I think his display of the Ten Commandments paid with private funds in the public lobby in the court to which he was elected is within his right of expressing his religious convictions," says Dr. Richard Land, Director of the Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission. "The 11th Circuit Court of Appeals is wrong on the issue.

     "However, I am troubled, deeply troubled by a judge defying the law. What we have here is a case of a judge disobeying a law with which he disagrees. It is startling that so many conservatives are supporting a judge who openly defies the law."

     There can be no doubt that American law can be traced back to the Ten Commandments.

     David Barton, a researcher of the Judeo-Christian history of the United States, notes examples of an explicit connection between the Ten Commandments and founding documents of this nation:

1. Noah Webster, one of the authors of the U.S. Constitution, explained two centuries ago: "The duties of men are summarily comprised in the Ten Commandments, consisting of two tables: one comprehending the duties which we owe immediately to God - the other, the duties we owe to our fellow men.".

2. The Rhode Island government of 1638 adopted "all those perfect most absolute laws of His, given in His holy word of truth, to be guided thereby. Exod.. 24. 3, 4; 2 Chron. II. 3; 2 Kings. II. 17." The Ten Commandments are in those Scriptures.

3. In 1672, Connecticut established "wholesome laws for the regulating of each body obedience unto Jehovah the Great Lawgiver, Who hath been pleased to set down a Divine platform not only of the moral but also of judicial laws suitable for the people of Israel; as...laws and constitutions suiting our State." Virginia Armstrong of the Eagle Forum, a defender of Justice Moore, argues that there is no "law" involved in this case. "A `law' by definition commands, prohibits or permits a specific action. Chief Justice Moore's installation of the monument does not command, prohibit or permit any action by any party."

     She adds that the Ten Commandments "are supported by a variety of large, influential groups - evangelical Protestants, conservative Catholics, orthodox Jews and Mormons. If the Ten Commandments per se constitute a `religion,' which of these `religions' is `established?'"

     However, in this nation, the law is always interpreted or defined by the courts. Justice Moore had the right to appeal his case. He should have asked the 11th Circuit for a "stay" or delay in enforcing its decision of June 1, so that he could appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court.

     Instead, he failed to file the stay, and two days before he had to remove the monument, asked the U.S. Supreme Court for a stay. That was denied Wednesday.

A judge must obey the law, not defy it.

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