U.S. House Sides with Alabama Judge in Ten Commandments Case

Church & State, September 2003 | Go to article overview

U.S. House Sides with Alabama Judge in Ten Commandments Case


Alabama Chief Justice Roy Moore and his Ten Commandments display in the state Judicial Building got a boost from an unexpected source recently--the U.S. House of Representatives.

Representatives on July 23 voted 260-161 to block the federal government from spending any tax funds to enforce the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals decision against the Ten Commandments monument Moore placed in the lobby of the building that houses Alabama's supreme court.

The measure, introduced by Rep. John N. Hostettler (R-Ind.), is of questionable constitutionality and may turn out to be little more than political grandstanding. But observers say the vote is evidence of the House's increasing hostility toward church-state separation and its disregard for constitutional principles.

"Rep. Hostettler needs to go back to school and re-take fifth-grade civics," said Barry W. Lynn, Americans United executive director. "Congress cannot nullify court rulings about the Constitution merely by passing legislation."

Continued Lynn, "This is pure political grandstanding. Worse than that, it's an insult to the Constitution. Our country operates under the rule of law. Hostettler is promoting a form of anarchy."

At the same time as its Commandments vote, the House passed a measure forbidding the federal government from enforcing a decision by the 9th Circuit banning the recitation of the Pledge of Allegiance in public schools because of its religious content. That vote was even more lopsided, 307-119. (Both Hostettler amendments were added to an appropriations bill for the Commerce, Justice, State and Judiciary departments.)

For years, Religious Right organizations have attacked the federal judiciary because of court rulings upholding church-state separation, legal abortion and gay rights. These salvos have reverberated in Congress, with measures like the Hostettler amendments being the result.

Other House members want to take things a step further. Led by Majority Leader Tom DeLay (R-Texas), several GOP House members have formed a Working Group on Judicial Accountability designed, as a recent DeLay press release asserted, to "identify and prevent judicial activism."

DeLay said the group's co-chairs, Rep. Lamar Smith (R-Texas) and Rep. Steve Chabot (R-Ohio), "have recruited a core of smart, tough and aggressive members, and based on the early meetings it's clear that when it comes to judicial abuses they're going to take no prisoners. …

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U.S. House Sides with Alabama Judge in Ten Commandments Case
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