The Ten Commandments controversy involving Judge Roy Moore in Alabama has sharply divided evangelical Christians. Why? Because the controversy involves two issues, not just one.
The first issue involves whether or not the Ten Commandments in particular, and acknowledgment of God in general, are permissible in public buildings in the United States. On that issue, I, like most evangelical Christians and many other Americans, agree with Judge Roy Moore’s position.
I, too, am indignant at attempts by courts to deny our Judeo-Christian heritage and enforce a secular bias on our public spaces. I, too, am angered at the attempt by a federal appeals court to take “under God” out of the Pledge of Allegiance. I, too, am angered when courts rule that publicly-funded scholarships can be used by students to study anything but religion or ministry.
I, too, am angered when courts allow public school teachers to teach about Islam but deny students the right to express their Christian faith at public school sporting events. I, too, am angered when--as Justice Antonin Scalia said in his dissent in the Supreme Court’s Lawrence decision striking down anti-sodomy laws--the Supreme Court takes sides in the culture war. I will continue to protest such hostile court rulings. I will continue to encourage evangelical Christians to rise up and reform this government and its courts.
However, we are a government committed to the rule of law. That is the second issue in the Ten Commandments-Judge Moore controversy. Do evangelical Christians really want to say that this United States government is no longer a legitimate government and that we are no longer obligated to obey its courts when we disagree with their rulings? If so, let us understand it for what it is. It is insurrection.
Alabama’s Attorney General Bill Pryor has stated the second issue with eloquence:
"Although I believe the Ten Commandments are the cornerstone of our legal heritage and that they can be displayed constitutionally as they are in the U.S. Supreme Court building, I will not violate nor assist any person in the violation of this injunction. As Attorney General, I have a duty to obey all orders of courts even when I disagree with those orders.…We have a government of laws, not of men."
If Attorney General Pryor in good conscience could not uphold his sworn duty, then he should resign rather than breaking his oath of office. If we disagree with a judicial interpretation of the law--as Judge Moore, Attorney General Pryor, and millions of other Americans do in this case--then we must change the judges and, if necessary, change the laws.
Does anyone doubt how Attorney General Pryor would vote on this case if he were confirmed as a federal judge on the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals? What we must not do, unless we want to abandon the rule of law or support rebellion against this government, is support defiance of the law by officials sworn to uphold the law. Judge Moore should, like Attorney General Pryor, his eight fellow justices, and Alabama’s governor, obey the federal court order, continue his appeals process, and make his compelling case in the courts and in the courtroom of public opinion.
The principle at stake here is the same as the Truman-MacArthur controversy during the Korean War. I had a portrait of General MacArthur, along with a copy of his “Duty, Honor, Country” speech, on the wall of my bedroom as a boy. I believe MacArthur was right and President Truman was wrong on America’s Korea policy, when MacArthur said that in war there can be no substitute for victory.
However, we have civilian control of the military in America. General Eisenhower is reported to have said that if he had been given the orders MacArthur was given in Korea, he would have resigned, come back to America, and made his case against Truman’s policies as a private citizen. General MacArthur chose instead to ignore his orders, and Truman had no choice but to relieve him of his duties to maintain the constitutional principle of civilian control of the military.
If Judge Moore feels that in good conscience he cannot comply with the federal court order, then he should resign his office and continue to make his case to the Supreme Court. I will help him do it. If, as a private citizen, Judge Moore feels compelled by conscience to protest the removal of the Ten Commandments statue by engaging in a sit-in at the Alabama Supreme Court building, I will respect his freedom of conscience. If he is arrested for non-violently protesting the court’s action, I will contribute to his legal defense fund.
Nevertheless, we should not condone elected officials deciding which laws they will obey and which laws they will not. That subverts the rule of law and will lead to anarchy. In December 2000, the U.S. Supreme Court overruled the Florida Supreme Court in Bush v. Gore and brought the 2000 presidential election to an end. Would we have supported the Florida Supreme Court in defying the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling and continuing with yet another recount effort?
Judge Moore, in his public comments after his eight fellow Alabama Supreme Court justices voted to comply with the federal court order, said:
"I hear others talk of a rule of law. If the rule of law means to do everything a judge tells you to do, we would still have slavery in this country. If the rule of law means to do everything a judge tells you to do, the Declaration of Independence would be a meaningless document."
Judge Moore’s historical illustrations are instructive. On the slavery issue, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in the 1857 Dred Scott decision that slaves were property, not human beings, and thus had no rights. The response of the American people three years later was to elect a new president, Abraham Lincoln, who campaigned on a platform of no extension, and the eventual abolition, of slavery. So, America did obey the rule of law, used the ballot box, and eliminated slavery.
It is true that our forefathers, defied British law by forming a new government and declaring their independence. In the Declaration of Independence they laid out in considerable detail their reasons for concluding that the British Crown was no longer a legitimate government. I think they were right, and I applaud my ancestors for supporting that effort. I do not believe that rebellion is always wrong, but it should not take place until all legal redress of grievances has been exhausted.
Original copy from Beliefnet