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Editorial: Nation of laws guarantees religious freedom

Friday, August 29, 2003

The millions of Americans who are actively religious are riven these days by uncomplementary views on a variety of sacred and secular topics, many of which have been so prominent in the news of late.

The actions of the chief justice of Alabama have become, in their own way, a sounding board for many Christians who make a connection between the declining morals and values of their fellow citizens and the legal proceedings that have widened the divide between church and state.

Chief Justice Roy Moore's defiance of a federal judge's order to remove a monument featuring the Ten Commandments in Alabama's judicial building has become a rallying point for those who believe issues like prayer in school, the "under God" phrase in the Pledge of Allegiance and the display of the Ten Commandments in government buildings are symptomatic of what's wrong with a nation whose laws are changed and bent to reflect the trends of popular culture.

The backdrop for confrontations over these issues arises from the oft-heard claim that the United States was founded on Judeo-Christian principles and that the nation has a manifest destiny in affairs both foreign and domestic.

There are, however, modern historians who argue forcefully that the Founding Fathers, while steeped in the religious culture of the time, were far less concerned about the souls of the inhabitants of the fledgling nation than they were about avoiding the government-imposed religions of Europe.

Out of their concern came the coexistence of a secular government and its people who could choose to adopt a religious system -- or not be religious at all.

What Moore has done appeals to those who think a good dose of religious principles would do the government a great deal of good.

But it flies in the face of our legal system, which has both safeguarded our freedom to worship while limiting the direct influence of any religious system on the government.

Yes, there are still plenty of confusing messages out there.

While a federal judge prohibits the display of the Ten Commandments in Alabama, the building that houses the U.S. Supreme Court is decorated with a prominent frieze depicting Moses with the God-given tablets of the Law.

But the fact remains that Chief Justice Moore would never tolerate the outright disregard for and defiance of his own judicial decisions that he has shown for the decision of a federal judge who ordered the removal of the display Moore so fervently defends.

More than that, Moore had at his disposal a remedy that he now intends to seek -- now that the attention and outcry of supporters has failed to undue a judge's decision.

He will seek a review from the U.S. Supreme Court.

That's the way our legal system works.

You make your case. If you don't like the decision, you appeal. If the judicial process doesn't give you the satisfaction you seek, you accept the results.

Without a strict adherence to the laws of our nation, we have no nation. And without a nation of law, neither do we have the freedom to worship as we choose.


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