by Lowman S. Henry | August 27, 2003

U.S., Alabama Supreme Courts Steal Christians’ First Amendment Rights

They are ten, relatively simple sentences. Yet their impact on the world has been profound.

Every since God imparted to Moses his Ten Commandments for governing human behavior they have been the subject of debate. Along the way, the commandments also evolved from a set of purely religious principles, to one of the foundations of our current secular legal system.

It is that metamorphosis that frames the current battle over the placement of a rock displaying the Ten Commandments in the lobby of the offices of the Alabama Supreme Court.

The arguments should be familiar to Pennsylvanians. A couple of months ago the U.S. District Court resolved a dispute between Chester County and the American Civil Liberties Union over a plaque with the Ten Commandments on the wall of the county court house. The plaque had been there for years, but only recently caused distress of some sort to an atheist who happened by.

Chester County’s commissioners argued the Ten Commandments are historical. In fact they are one of the core writings, along with the English Magna Carta and other documents, which underpin our entire legal system. Based on that argument, the federal judiciary upheld as legal the placement of the plaque on the court house wall. And so, there it remains.

Alabama is having a bit more trouble dealing with the issue. The Chief Justice of the state’s supreme court, Roy S. Moore, had the Ten Commandments chiseled into a 2.5 ton slab of granite and placed it in a state office building.

Unlike the Pennsylvania case, however, Moore has framed his defense of the Ten Commandments display in purely religious terms. To date, the U.S. Supreme Court has refused to hear Justice Moore’s arguments that his First Amendment right to freely practice his religious beliefs would be violated if the stone were removed from public display. Moore also wants the nation’s highest court to acknowledge the central role God and religion played in the founding of our country.

The federal courts created a powder keg by ordering the Ten Commandments removed from the state Supreme Court building. Justice Moore refused, only to have his colleagues overrule the decision and capitulate to the federal court order. Moore has also been suspended from his job as Chief Justice and may very well be removed from the court for his principled stand in defense of his First Amendment rights.

Christians from across the country descended on the court house to support Moore, and protest removal of the Ten Commandments. Former Presidential candidate Alan Keyes and others vowed to be arrested rather than allow removal of the rock.

All of this could have been avoided had the U.S. Supreme Court agreed to hear Moore’s appeal. Ten Commandment cases are popping up like mushrooms all across the country with rulings in various districts that are not entirely consistent. While it would appear the Ten Commandment’s place as a historical document is being upheld, the larger issue of religious freedom for America’s Christians remains unresolved.

The U.S. Supreme Court has recently found time on its docket for landmark cases on affirmative action and gay rights. It should also find time to hear a case that impacts on the religious freedom of the nation’s Christian majority.

For its failure to do so, the U.S. Supreme Court – along with the eight associate justices of the Alabama Supreme Court – deserve the title of black robed bandits for stealing the First Amendment rights of Chief Justice Moore and Christians across the land.