Alabama Judge, ACLU in Clash over Religion Clergy Members Lead Prayers in His Courtroom

Article excerpt

Roy Moore is a West Point graduate, a Vietnam veteran, the only Republican circuit court judge in Etowah County - and a Christian.

For almost a year, he has been embroiled in a lawsuit pitting him and his supporters - those who view America as a Christian nation - against the American Civil Liberties Union and the plaintiffs they represent, who want Moore to leave his Christian beliefs outside the courthouse door.

It all started when Moore, 47, brought his hand-crafted plaque of the Ten Commandments into the courtroom. Plaintiffs, defendants and lawyers who face the judge can hardly ignore it hanging on the wall over Moore's right shoulder. The judge, who says he is carrying on an Alabama tradition, also invites local Christian clergy to pray at the beginning of each jury organizing session. At a time when communities nationwide are involved in issues of school prayer and religious expression in public places, those in Alabama who support Moore point to the lawsuit as further evidence of the undermining of religious freedom as protected under the First Amendment. It is time we in America wake up and realize what's happening and take a stand," Moore has said. "We're losing our liberties . . . I firmly believe if we don't take a stand, it won't be long until the church and the people of God will be persecuted, as opposed to being restricted as they are now." Moore's first hint that someone in Etowah County found his Ten Commandments plaque offensive was a newspaper article placed anonymously on his bench. The story told of a similar plaque removed by court order from a courthouse in Cobb County, Ga. Then he received a copy of a letter sent by the ACLU of Alabama to the chief justice of the Alabama Supreme Court, asking that all courtroom prayers be stopped. In March, the ACLU of Alabama filed suit against Moore on behalf of the Alabama Freethought Association and three Etowah County plaintiffs. The suit seeks removal of the plaque and an end to prayers in Moore's courtroom. In early December, Moore countered by filing a suit against the ACLU, saying the group has infringed upon his First Amendment rights. He explained that it has been a "long-standing practice" to invite local pastors and laymen to open jury sessions and that he gives jurors the opportunity to leave the room if they do not wish to pray. Joel Sogol, attorney for the ACLU in Tuscaloosa, Ala., has a different take on the situation. "You ought not be subpoenaed to a location to be prayed over. If you don't show up, you get picked up by the sheriff. Or you can be directed, if you don't want to do this, to get your butt up and get out of the courtroom. …


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