On other fronts we have one female musical icon
kissing another on national television, as the camera focused
on the latter’s ex-boyfriend. (Brittany Spears and Madonna,
and in case you didn’t catch it on TV, some national
newspapers put the photo on page one.)
Perhaps the strangest event of the summer took place in a courtyard
in Montgomery, Alabama as a crowd of people engaged in a prayerful
protest over the Federal Court-ordered removal of a two-and-a-half
ton rendition of the biblical Ten Commandments. This defiance
of a Federal Court ruling was ironic since it began at the behest
of the Chief Justice of Alabama’s Supreme Court, who has
since been suspended for defying laws he was sworn to uphold.
The issue is religion, particularly Christianity, and the Constitution,
particularly the First Amendment. The judge in question, the
conservative Roy Moore, took the viewpoint that the First Amendment,
which addresses the relationship between church and state, was
in fact a confirmation of Christian ideology. The judge cites
the fact that the Founding Fathers were universally Christian
in belief, therefore, anything that they produced, such as the
Constitution, must be the divine inspiration of God. Thus, a
sculptural representation of the Christian Ten Commandments is
representative of America, both religious and secular, and its
placement in a federal courthouse is appropriate and lawful.
In response to his critics, who accuse him of taking a “liberal” interpretation
of the Constitution and placing his personal beliefs above the
enforcement of the law, Moore has proclaimed that he was always
defended and upheld the letter of the law—except when it
In a similar vein, those supporters holding a non-violent prayer
vigil outside the courtroom have described themselves as peaceful,
law-abiding individuals and maintain that the removal of the
Ten Commandments from public view is a violation of their civil
If one accepts the judge’s reasoning, then the logic is
inescapable and the sincerity and conviction of the crowd, and
its members acts of trespass in the preservation of their “rights” is
both appropriate and part of a long-standing tradition of American
civil disobedience. On the surface, the situation appears an
ideal expression of reasoning and emotion balancing the judgment
of man and God.
But it doesn’t stand up to a little critical thinking.
Both judge and demonstrators are being subjective, assuming ideas
and facts that cannot be supported by history and that are actually
contrary to the intent and purpose of the framers of the Constitution.
True, they were almost universally Christian. However, almost
to a man, they were devotees of the Enlightenment, disciples
of the Age of Reason. As their papers reveal, in crafting the
Constitution, they were determined to avoid the tyranny of a
government that is both church and state.
It is, at the very least, inconsistent for a state supreme
court judge to claim a strict adherence to the letter of
the law yet
hold himself above the application of the law. If he is confronted
with a conflict between his duties as a judge and his moral conscience,
he has the right to resign. As a private citizen, he has as much
right as any other citizen to participate in an act of civil
disobedience—and to accept the consequences of that act.
As a judge, he does not have the right to break the law he has
sworn to uphold.
Moore has likened his situation to that of Martin Luther King,
yet this is a false analogy. King’s civil disobedience
was the act of a private citizen protesting laws being used to
oppress a minority. Moore on the other hand, is in a position
of power and authority, and he is using that power and authority
to impose on the people of Alabama and the citizens of the United
States his own personal interpretation of the law. Whatever the
strength of his religious convictions, his office does not give
him the moral or legal right to impose these convictions on others.
One can admire the religious convictions of those who continue
to hold a vigil in front of what is now an empty corridor. (Moore’s
own colleagues on the Alabama Supreme Court organized the sculpture’s
removal.) But one can also point out that the removal of a religious
statue from a public courthouse is not an attack on anyone’s
civil liberties—no one is telling them they can’t
believe in the Ten Commandments. Rather that removal is ensuring
the concept of religious impartiality in government.
No reasonable argument can maintain that the concepts of justice,
tolerance and liberty are inherently and exclusively Christian.
It matters not if most, some, or almost no people in Alabama,
or any other state, are Christian or not. To compel any non-Christian
to seek justice before the icon of the Ten Commandments is to
compel acceptance of the apparent superiority of Christian ideology.
This is a violation of civil liberties.
It is not enough for the American court system to be color
blind and gender neutral, it must be neutral with regard
or at least agnostic.
It is a uniquely American contradiction that our armed forces
are halfway around the world confronting Islamic fundamentalism,
while at home having to deal with Christian fundamentalism. Remarkably,
both kinds of fundamentalism employ similar tactics in their
defiance of the law of the land, and both appear to share the
same goal, to change and influence American policies and practices
to suit their respective ideologies. (And anyone who would claim
that Christian fundamentalism is different because it does not
employ violence has forgotten Oklahoma City.)
If this nation and its people wish to triumph over intolerance
and evil in the name of freedom and fairness, then it must be
willing to wage at home the same battle it wages in Afghanistan
David Raymond won local and regional
awards as Kalamalama Opinion editor in the mid-1990s. He
recently completed his master’s
degree in military history and diplomacy at Florida State University,
where he is working on his doctorate and teaching.