Judge urges greater role for God in government Ten Commandments are on wall in courtroom

June 28, 1998|By Howard Libit | Howard Libit,SUN STAFF

The Alabama judge who has become a hero to the nation's religious conservatives for his refusal to remove the Ten Commandments from his courtroom told a Catonsville prayer breakfast yesterday there should be less separation between God and government.

"The acknowledgment of God has been excluded in this country," Judge Roy Moore said. "Priests have been led to

believe that the laws of God are not applicable to government.

"It is time for Christians to stand up," the Etowah County, Ala., circuit court judge told a crowd of more than 200 at the Bishop Cummins Memorial Reformed Episcopal Church on Frederick Road.

Mixing biblical references with memorized selections from the Pledge of Allegiance, Bill of Rights and Declaration of Independence, Moore said the courts have misinterpreted the concept of religious freedom.

"We can't even acknowledge God in our schools," said Moore, 50, a graduate of the U.S. Military Academy. "No wonder teachers are getting killed. No wonder students are getting killed. No wonder their parents are getting killed."

Moore began attracting national attention within a year of his 1992 appointment as a judge after he decided to spruce up the bare walls of his courtroom with a wooden plaque inscribed with the Ten Commandments that he carved by hand.

The American Civil Liberties Union filed a lawsuit to have the carving removed, as well as to end the practice of having clergy lead prospective jurors in a voluntary courtroom prayer.

Moore's critics say the nation's legal precedents prohibit the display of religious items in government buildings. They also question whether a judge would be allowed to put up writings from a non-Judeo-Christian religion, such as from the Koran.

After the ACLU won in a lower state court, the Alabama Supreme Court dismissed the challenge on a technicality -- which means the Ten Commandments remain on Moore's courtroom wall and the voluntary prayer continues, said Moore's lead attorney, Stephen Melchior of Cheyenne, Wyo.

"We are waiting virtually every day to get served with another lawsuit," said Melchior, who described Moore's legal battles for those at the prayer breakfast.

The legal wrangling has made Moore a darling of religious conservatives. Alabama's Republican governor, Fob James Jr., threatened to call out the National Guard to prevent the Ten Commandments from being taken from Moore's courtroom, and more than 10,000 people rallied in Montgomery, Ala., last year in support of Moore.

The U.S. House of Representatives and U.S. Senate have since passed nonbinding resolutions in support of permitting the public posting of the Ten Commandments in government buildings.

Over the past year, Moore has traveled the country speaking to )) religious groups, urging them to work harder to bring God back into public life. He is scheduled to speak today at a rally in Manassas, Va.

Moore chose to speak in Catonsville largely because of the work of the Rev. Paul Schenck, rector and senior pastor of the Reformed Episcopal church. Schenck and his brother are nationally known anti-abortion activists who founded the Ten Commandments Project, which aims to place the Ten Commandments in the offices of public officials.

During yesterday's 35-minute speech, Moore argued in great detail that the United States was founded on the belief in God and that courts today are destroying that foundation.

"When are we going to stop letting judges take away our rights, one by one?" Moore said.

He also criticized the court's rulings on evolution and creationism. "We teach our children in our schools that they come from monkeys, that they evolved," Moore said. "But man was created by God."

After the talk, many people who attended the prayer breakfast eagerly lined up to shake hands with Moore and get his autograph.

"He's a real modern-day hero," said Loretta Ducote of Carney, who took snapshots of the judge with several of her friends. "He's someone who stands up for his principles, and we need more people like that in this country."

Pub Date: 6/28/98

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