Rallying 'Round the Rock: Religious Right Leaders Use Alabama Commandments Monument as Touchstone for Organizing

Article excerpt

Religious broadcaster James C. Dobson is no fan of the federal judiciary these days.

Federal judges, the Colorado Springs, Colo.-based radio counselor said recently, are "an unelected, non-accountable, arrogant, imperialistic judiciary determined to shove their beliefs down our throats."

peaking to a crowd of about 1,000 in Montgomery, Ala., Aug. 28, Dobson came to the defense of Alabama Supreme Court Chief Justice Roy Moore, who had been ordered by a federal court to remove a Ten Commandments monument from the state Judicial Building. Moore defied the court, and the head of the Focus on the Family empire came to town to show his support.

"This struggle that we're involved in is not really about the Ten Commandments," Dobson told the crowd. "It's not about the monument. It's not even about that wonderful man, Judge Moore. It is primarily a battle against judicial tyranny.

"The liberal elite and the judges at the highest level ... are determined to remove every evidence of faith in God from the entire culture," Dobson continued. "They are determined to control more and more of our personal lives, and it's time we said, 'Enough is enough!'"

Egged on by Dobson and other national leaders of the Religious Right, the chief justice's supporters on the ground in Montgomery vowed to continue their fight, even as the 5,280-pound monument was being wheeled out of the rotunda.

"We are trusting God," the Rev. Patrick Mahoney of the Christian Defense Coalition said. "We are not despondent. Let us just keep in prayer. The final chapter has not been written."

In the days leading up to the monument's removal, Mahoney, the Rev. Rob Schenck, the Rev. Philip L. "Flip" Benham and other Moore supporters stepped up their incendiary rhetoric. They leveled most of their verbal assaults against U.S. District Judge Myron H. Thompson. Thompson, an appointee of President Bill Clinton, bore the brunt of the Religious Right's outrage, but strangely, federal appeals court Judge Ed Cairns, an appointee of the first President Bush who wrote the more crucial opinion upholding Thompson's ruling, was not similarly attacked.

(Mahoney, Schenck, Benham and others were also careful not to discuss other aspects of their radical theocratic agenda, which includes banning all abortions, denying civil rights to gay people and infusing public schools and other public agencies with fundamentalist Christianity.)

When Thompson issued an order requiring that the monument be removed, outraged Moore supporters burned copies on the sidewalk in front of

the federal courthouse. Benham presided over a mock trial where Thompson was, to no one's surprise, found guilty.

"We hold you, Judge Thompson, and the United States Supreme Court, in contempt of God's law," intoned Benham, who runs the radical anti-abortion group Operation Rescue. "Myron Thompson, you have broken the law of almighty God."

Moore's supporters also vowed to take political vengeance against Alabama political leaders who failed to back Moore's defiance. Some called on Attorney General Bill Pryor and Gov. Bob Riley to resign, even though both men have stated repeatedly that they support Moore's display.

The controversy put Riley in an especially tight spot. Riley is a Republican and a religious conservative who holds regular Bible studies in his office and favors policies backed by the Religious Right. He frequently relies on biblical arguments when promoting policies. This year, Riley pushed for restructuring Alabama's outdated tax system and often framed his argument in theological terms, insisting that the tax code, which imposes taxes on people making as little as $5,000 per year, is unjust and flies in the face of Jesus' admonitions to care for the poor.

The tax plan faced a vote last month, and Riley was worried that evangelicals would cast a protest vote against it to punish him for failing to back Moore's defiance. …