MONTGOMERY, AL – The American Civil Liberties Union of Alabama today condemned Chief Justice Roy Moore's announcement that he will defy a court order to remove a two-ton Ten Commandments display from the grounds of the state court building.
"If Chief Justice Moore can decide which federal court opinions he wants to comply with, then nobody's rights are safe from any state officials who disagree with the law," said Olivia Turner, Executive Director of the ACLU of Alabama, which filed a successful challenge on behalf of local attorneys who said they were concerned that their clients would not get a fair hearing if they did not agree with Justice Moore's religious beliefs.
"In defying this court order, Justice Moore is repeating the shameful legacy of Alabama Governor George Wallace, who stood in the schoolhouse door in opposition to a federal court order to desegregate all-white schools," Turner said.
Two federal courts have agreed that the Judicial Building -- which houses Alabama's three highest courts of appeal -- should be a place where profession of religious faith is not a prerequisite to seeking justice. Last week, U.S. District Judge Myron H. Thompson ordered the monument removed and said that he is prepared to hold the state in contempt if his order is not honored by next Wednesday, August 20.
Turner noted that at his trial Justice Moore made clear that his display was specifically meant as a monument to the Judeo-Christian God and not directed at a God of any other religion.
"The role of government is to ensure that individuals have the freedom to choose whether or not they want to adhere to a particular religious faith. However, when government promotes religion, that right to religious freedom is jeopardized," Turner said.
"It is a dangerous thing when politicians attempt to co-opt religion for their own selfish agenda," she added. As Judge Thompson noted in his opinion, Moore was elected in part because of his championing of a Ten Commandments display in his own courtroom and his practice of inviting clergy to lead prayer before trials.
In today's case, two separate lawsuits, Glassroth v. Moore and Maddox et al. v. Moore, were filed on behalf of local attorneys by the ACLU, Americans United for Separation of Church and State and the Southern Poverty Law Center. Robert Varley of the Montgomery law firm Varley and Messer participated in the case as a volunteer attorney on behalf of the ACLU.