Ten Commandments display unconstitutional comment (0)
July 17, 2003
The Ten Commandments monument erected by Alabama Supreme Court Chief Justice Roy Moore violates the U.S. Constitution and must be removed, a federal appeals court ruled July 1.
A three-judge panel of the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals unanimously affirmed a lower court’s decision that the 5,280-pound granite monument in the state’s judicial building violates the constitutional prohibition on government establishment of religion. The panel agreed with federal judge Myron Thompson’s November opinion that the display had the primary result of promoting religion and had a non-secular purpose.
Moore’s expansive view of church-state relations was demonstrated by his lawyer’s “concession at oral argument that if we adopted his position, the chief justice would be free to adorn the walls of the Alabama Supreme Court’s courtroom with sectarian religious murals and have decidedly religious quotations painted above the bench,” jude Ed Carnes wrote in the panel’s opinion.
“Every government building could be topped with a cross or a menorah or a statue of Buddha, depending upon the views of the officials with authority over the premises,” Carnes wrote.
“Proselytizing religious messages could be played over the public address system in every government building.”
Moore is expected to appeal the ruling to the U.S. Supreme Court.
An aide to Gov. Bob Riley told the Birmingham News the governor “is very disappointed by the 11th Circuit’s decision” and hopes it will be struck down.
In his opinion, Carnes said no evidence exists of a clear history of religious displays in judicial buildings, as there does of prayers to open legislative sessions for the last 200 years in the United States.
The ruling does not conflict with a recent decision by the same court upholding inclusion of the Ten Commandments in a county seal, Carnes wrote.
Clear religious purpose
Unlike the Alabama display, the seal from Richmond County, Ga., did not include the text of the commandments, just numerals, Carnes said.
“In [that case], there was no evidence of a non-secular purpose; in this case, there is an abundance of evidence, including parts of the chief justice’s own testimony, that his purpose in installing the monument was not secular,” he wrote. “In [that case], the image was in the context of another symbol of law; in this case the monument sits prominently and alone in the rotunda of the judicial building.”
The opinion also was not inconsistent with a recent on by the Third Circuit Court of Appeals approving of a Ten Commandments display on a Pennsylvania county courthouse.
Some displays allowed
“That case is readily distinguishable from this one because the plaque had been there more than eight decades and no government entity or official has done anything in modern times to highlight or celebrate its existence,” Carnes said as a part of the court’s reasoning.
The panel’s opinion was limited and does not say “that all recognitions of God by government are per se impermissible,” Carnes wrote.
Several Supreme Court justices have said such examples as the national motto of “In God We Trust,” the declaration of Thanksgiving as a holiday and references to God at the opening of court sessions do not endorse religion, he wrote.
The panel also rebuked Moore for his assertion that he “is not answerable to a higher judicial authority” in performing his duties as chief justice.
“In the regime he champions, each high government official can decide whether the Constitution requires or permits a federal court order and can act accordingly,” Carnes wrote.