Alabama commandments monument ordered down

Friday, August 22, 2003

MONTGOMERY, Ala. -- State Supreme Court justices overruled Chief Justice Roy Moore on Thursday and directed that his Ten Commandments monument be removed from its public site in the Alabama Judicial Building.

The senior associate justice, Gorman Houston, said the eight associate justices instructed the building's manager to "take all steps necessary to comply ... as soon as practicable." Some supporters of Moore vowed to fight the move through civil disobedience.

A federal judge had ruled the monument violates the constitution's ban on government establishment of religion and must be removed from its public place in the rotunda. He had set Thursday as his deadline, but Moore said he would not move it.

The associate justices wrote that they are "bound by solemn oath to follow the law, whether they agree or disagree with it."

Walled off

The monument was briefly walled off from public view Thursday as U.S. District Judge Myron Thompson's deadline passed for the marker to be out of public sight. Then the plywood-like wall came down, displaying the monument again.

Houston said the building manager may have put up the partition in order for the state to be in compliance until the associate justices made a decision. Their seven-page order, signed by all eight, was issued about 10 a.m. The partition had blocked public view of the monument from about 6:30 a.m. to 9:30 a.m.

Moore's spokesman, Tom Parker, said Moore was out of town for a family funeral but decided to return to Montgomery when he learned the monument had been walled from public view.

"This is an example of what is happening in this country: the acknowledgment of God as the moral foundation of law in this nation is being hidden from us," Moore said in a statement.

But attorney Ayesha Khan, an attorney for the plaintiffs fighting to get the monument removed, said the associate justices' decision "just shows what an extremist Roy Moore is, than all eight of the other justices are refusing to stand with him."

Earlier, another plaintiffs' attorney, Richard Cohen, said a motion was filed with Thompson asking that Moore be held in contempt. It was not immediately clear if the associate justices' action would make the motion moot. Thompson, who had threatened to fine the state $5,000 a day, had not been expected to take up the matter until today.

Attorney General Bill Pryor said he filed notice with Thompson that the monument would be moved under the associate justices' order, and thinks the state will now avoid having to pay the contempt fine.

State taxpayers, he added, "should not be punished for the refusal of the chief justice to follow a federal court order."

About three dozen Moore supporters, some promising peaceful civil disobedience if the monument is removed, remained outside the building, which was locked for the day to the general public. The demonstrators were angry with the associate justices' decision.

"They're supposed to hold up the state constitution, just like Roy Moore is doing," said Jerry Layne, a self-described street preacher from Chattanooga, Tenn., who wore an American flag hat. "Now his own kind is going against him. They're abusing the law and misusing the law."

On Wednesday, 21 protesters who had surrounded the monument were arrested for refusing to leave the building.

They were charged with trespassing, and most were released on their recognizance.

The U.S. Supreme Court had rejected Moore's emergency plea for a stay of the federal court order Wednesday afternoon, declining at least for the time being to be drawn into the dispute.

Moore, who installed the 5,300-pound granite monument in the rotunda of the judicial building two years ago in the middle of the night, said afterward that he did not consider the case over. He had said he still planned to appeal to the Supreme Court on the merits of the case.

The monument has not been viewed as a partisan issue. Moore is a Republican; seven of the eight associate justices also are Republicans.

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