Federal judge: Alabama in compliance with order to move monument

Tuesday, September 2, 2003

MONTGOMERY, Ala. — A federal judge said late last week that the state of Alabama is in compliance with his order requiring the removal of a Ten Commandments monument from the rotunda of the Alabama Judicial Building.

The 5,300-pound monument that Chief Justice Roy Moore installed two summers ago was moved Aug. 27 and is now inside a locked storage room off an employee lunchroom, Attorney General Bill Pryor said in a conference call on Aug. 29 with U.S. District Judge Myron Thompson.

“We told the court that we had verified the monument was moved and are satisfied the state is in compliance with the court order,” said Richard Cohen, an attorney for plaintiffs who sued to have the monument removed.

The judge told attorneys he would issue an order later on Aug. 29 declaring the state in compliance, according to Cohen, of the Southern Poverty Law Center.

Meanwhile, monument supporters last week refiled in Montgomery a federal lawsuit to get the commandments returned to the state building’s rotunda, according to the Montgomery Advertiser. The plaintiffs originally filed the lawsuit in Mobile, but a judge there dismissed the suit, saying he did not have jurisdiction. The case has been assigned to Thompson, the Advertiser reported.

Thompson ruled last year that the monument, when it sat in the building’s rotunda, violated the Constitution’s ban against government promotion of religion. Moore refused to comply with the order to move it, was overruled by his eight colleagues on the court, and was suspended on ethics charges.

Moore plans to file an appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court this month.

Pryor has defended the associate justices’ decision to overrule the chief justice. Moore has been critical of them all, as well as of Gov. Bob Riley, like Pryor a fellow Republican.

Patrick Mahoney, director of the Christian Defense Coalition, said Aug. 29 he would deliver a plaque of the Ten Commandments to Riley this week to “display publicly” in the Alabama Statehouse.

Riley has said that he believes displaying the Ten Commandments in public places is constitutional, but that the state must also obey the federal courts.

Riley’s spokesman, David Azbell, said the governor was unaware of Mahoney’s plans, but would not say if Riley would oblige.

“It’s certainly something we’ll consider,” Azbell said.

If Riley does put the plaque on public display, a lawsuit similar to the one filed for the monument in the judicial building would be considered, Cohen said.

“Governor Riley is free to have religious objects in his private office,” Cohen said. “The state is not free to promote religion in a public way.”

Meanwhile, Moore late last week declined a North Carolina county’s offer to display the monument.

A spokeswoman for Moore said he appreciated the gesture from Gaston County, but that he planned to keep the monument close by while he fought in court.

Gaston commissioners had voted to offer to haul the monument to Gastonia and display it on the county courthouse grounds.

Jessica Atteberry, a spokeswoman for Moore through the Foundation for Moral Law, which oversees his legal defense fund, said Moore wants to keep the monument and eventually get it back in the building’s rotunda.

Gaston’s offer is “very sweet and kind,” Atteberry said. “But [Moore] owns the monument. Once it came down from the rotunda it became under his full ownership. And he wants to see it restored to its rightful place.”

Other offers to store the monument are coming in, she said, including one from Mississippi Gov. Ronnie Musgrove and his Republican challenger, Haley Barbour.

Tags: , , ,