Since his early days on the bench in Alabama, Roy Moore has been on the radar screens of Jewish organizations that followed, protested, and fought against his positions on issues relating to the role of religion in the public sphere and the separation of church and state.
Now, with a victory Tuesday night in the Republican Senate primary runoff and one foot in the door of the Capitol, some fear that the firebrand former judge’s impact could multiply once he gets to Washington.
“It’s true that, if elected, he will only be one percent of the Senate, but we’ve seen that when there are fractious issues, one vote can make a huge difference,” said Rabbi Jack Moline, president of the Interfaith Alliance, a group which he said has been dealing with Moore for 20 years. One such vote, according to Moline, could be on a future attempt to repeal the Johnson Amendment barring clergy from endorsing candidates from the pulpit. “He could make a big difference on that.”
Moore’s tenure on the state’s Supreme Court has been marked by controversy. He was removed from the bench twice, once in 2003 over his refusal to remove a monument of the Ten Commandments in front of the courthouse, and again last year after ordering judges not to register same-sex marriages, in defiance of the U.S. Supreme Court.
When arguing against the decision, Moore essentially compared complying with the ruling to Nazi officers committing genocide in the Holocaust. “Could I do this if I were in Nuremberg… say that I was following the orders of the highest authority to kill Jews?” Moore asked when explaining his decision to ignore the court. “Could I say I was ordered to do so?” When reminded by the interviewer that the Nazis murdered Jews, he asked: “Is there a difference?”
Never shy about his religious beliefs, Moore used his prominent position to advance the idea of Christian supremacy. In comments he made in 2014, Moore seemed to argue that rights protected by the First Amendment are reserved for Christians only, adding that “Buddha didn’t create us, Mohammed didn’t create us, it was the God of the Holy Scriptures on which this nation was founded.”
Here, according to Moline, rests a problem for the Jewish community. “In his view, Christian triumphalism supersedes the constitution,” he said, noting that while there is no indication that Moore holds any prejudice against Jews, “his view that God’s law is above the constitution, is alarming.”
“His Christian conservatism and the theocratic nature of his interests have been problematic over the decades,” said Jonathan Miller, rabbi emeritus of Temple Emanu-El in Birmingham. “I don’t know how you deal with someone like that who is coming to Washington as a provocateur.”
The Anti-Defamation League said that it has opposed Moore’s positions for years on issues of church-state separation, marriage equality, and the rule of law, adding that Moore has also pushed anti-Muslim conspiracy theories regarding the role of Sharia law in America. “ADL will continue to oppose discriminatory policies or statements from whatever the source,” said a spokesman for the group, noting that as a nonprofit, it does not support or oppose candidates for elected office.
But while Moore has been a staunch supporter of giving religion a voice in the public square, some believe this will not necessarily be his defining issue if he joins the Senate.
“My understanding of him is that its more about states’ rights,” said Rabbi Elizabeth Bahar of Temple B’nai Sholom in Huntsville. “His issue is with anyone dictating states’ rights. This is an old southern Republican mantra.” In 2015, Bahar hosted a gay wedding ceremony at her synagogue, protesting Moore’s order to block same sex marriage in the state. “His focus,” she said of Moore, “is on his version of morality and limiting the federal government from interfering in how this version of morality plays out in the public square.”
Moore’s primary victory, running against a candidate endorsed by President Trump and the Republican establishment, provides a boost to the groups that pushed Moore across the finish line: Christian evangelicals and Republican nationalists like Breitbart chairman and former White House advisor Steve Bannon. Most in the American Jewish community oppose evangelicals on social issues while cooperating with them on matters relating to Israel. Many also are concerned that the rising nationalist wing of the GOP serves as a political home to anti-Semites and other extremists.
Can this coalition help pass legislation that would serve Moore’s goal of increasing the role of God in the public sphere?
“One thing’s for sure,” said a Jewish organizational activist, “they made clear they have real political power. Now they can use it as they wish.”
Nathan Guttman, staff writer, is the Forward’s Washington bureau chief. He joined the staff in 2006 after serving for five years as Washington correspondent for the Israeli dailies Haaretz and The Jerusalem Post. In Israel, he was the features editor for Ha’aretz and chief editor of Channel 1 TV evening news. He was born in Canada and grew up in Israel. He is a graduate of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem.