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Ten Commandments monument starts tour

Sunday, August 1, 2004

DAYTON, Tenn. -- The Ten Commandments monument banished from Alabama's state judicial building began a national tour on the back of a flatbed truck on Saturday -- starting outside the courthouse where the teaching of evolution was put on trial almost 80 years ago.

"The ACLU is still the enemy," said June Griffin of Dayton, an outspoken advocate for displays of the Ten Commandments in government buildings.

About 75 people gathered to see the 5,280-pound granite monument outside the site of the Scopes Monkey Trial -- where high school teacher John Scopes was convicted in 1925 of giving lessons on evolution. Many stepped up a ladder to take photos and pose beside the marker.

Ousted Alabama Chief Justice Roy Moore, who lost his job for defying a federal court order to remove his display from the lobby of the judicial building, approved the national tour but is not participating.

A spokeswoman for Moore said he plans to ask the U.S. Supreme Court to reverse the ruling. A federal judge agreed with the American Civil Liberties Union and other groups that the display was an unconstitutional government promotion of religion.

Jewell Sneed, 70, snapped photos of her 7-year-old great-grandson, Jacob, standing beside the monument.

"I think it was awful for them to make them move it from he courthouse," Sneed said. "That is what our country is based on, is God and the Bible."

The stop at the courthouse and at Rhea County High School -- where Bible classes were taught until a federal lawsuit ended them in 2002 -- were the first in a tour that could crisscross the nation for up to a year.

The tour was arranged by Americans Standing for God and Country, a Texas-based veterans group looking for congressional support to permanently display the marker at the U.S. Capitol.

Larry Darby, president of the Mongomery-based Atheist Law Center Inc., was heckled by some in the crowd Saturday and loudly told, "You're not welcome here."

At one point, John Rocco, 73, of Dayton, bumped his knee into Darby's leg as they passed on the ramp steps to the display.

"That's typical Christianity," Darby shouted. "These people are the lunatic fringe."

Rocco said the knee bump was an accident.

The courthouse in Dayton became a flashpoint for creationism vs. evolution in 1925, when orator and presidential candidate William Jennings Bryan and lawyer Clarence Darrow squared off during the prosecution of Scopes for teaching evolution instead of the biblical story of creation.

Moore's monument was placed in a judicial building closet for almost a year until he accepted the offer by the veterans group to take it on the road. The group promotes itself as veterans dedicated to battling domestic enemies and protecting "Christian heritage."

"One of our domestic enemies is our failing judicial system," said Jim Cabaniss, president of the veterans' group, a division of American Veterans in Domestic Defense. "Our position is we have removed the monument from a dark room in the Alabama Supreme Court Building and exposed it to the world."

Cabaniss said the tour is not political and is not raising money for the group or Moore.

Although no speaker asked for money, pamphlets handed out at the stadium rally included an application for active membership in the veteran's group, at a cost of $120 a year or $1,000 for lifetime. A representatives of the Foundation for Moral Law Inc., of Montgomery sold Ten Commandments pins for $5.

Cabaniss said the tour would probably go to Mississippi from Tennessee.


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