Roy Moore, the chief justice of the Alabama Supreme Court, has declared a religious war here in America. In what’s often seen as headline-mongering, Moore has refused for months to heed a federal court order to remove a 5,300-pound statue of the Ten Commandments from the state courthouse. Most dismiss it as a sideshow.
This week, though, Moore served notice that he’s not kidding around. In a fiery speech in Montgomery August 16, he made clear that his legal battle is about more than the location of one monument or even the height of the wall between church and state. It is, he declared, “a spiritual warfare.”
“You’re a soldier, if you don’t know it,” Moore thundered as thousands cheered.
The time has come, Moore declared, for “Christians to take a stand” — not only against the Ten Commandments ruling, but also against abortion, gay rights and a society that sanctions the teaching of evolution.
America, Moore said, quoting from a poem, is fighting a war — “fought not upon some distant shore, nor against a foe that you can see, but one as ruthless as can be.” The enemy, he said, is “the wrath of Hell” — that is, Satan.
Calling his own legal battle a front line in the war, he urged his listeners to “stand up for their inalienable rights to acknowledge God.”
“If I should fail to do my duty in this case for fear of giving offense,” he said, “I would consider myself guilty of treason toward my country, and of an act of disloyalty toward the majesty of heaven which I revere above all earthly kings.”
For the record, nobody’s right to “acknowledge God” or practice their religion is at stake in this case. The only thing at stake is the right of one of America’s highest judicial officers to flout the law in the name of some good higher than the Constitution he’s sworn to uphold.
Moore’s assaults on the norms of our constitutional system are alarming enough, coming as they do from a chief justice. But Moore is not alone. His August 16 speech drew thousands of supporters from as far away as California. Even more disturbing, his allies in Washington are able to muster majorities in the House of Representatives — Democrats and Republicans alike — to endorse his lawlessness. As the Forward’s Daniel Treiman reported three weeks ago, 260 members of the House voted last month to bar the use of federal funds to enforce the federal court’s order to remove Moore’s monument from the courthouse. A day earlier, on July 22, 307 congressmen approved a similar measure — this one barring use of funds to enforce a federal court ruling forbidding the recitation in public schools of the phrase “under God” in the Pledge of Allegiance.
The two measures, if adopted by the Senate and signed by President Bush, would cause much more damage than Moore’s incendiary rhetoric or his refusal to obey the law. Moore, as he noted in his speech, eventually “will pass away, as every politician and every pastor will.” Individuals come and go. Our constitutional system should stand.
But that’s not written in stone. The Constitution’s endurance as a safeguard of liberty is guaranteed only by the consent of the governed. The danger is that out of political expediency or a sense of shared zealotry, politicians in Washington will chip away at the underpinnings of our freedom by continuing to indulge Moore and his ilk.