MONTGOMERY, Ala — The three-judge panel of the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled the Ten Commandments monument erected in the Alabama judicial building unconstitutional, July 1, reaffirming federal judge Myron Thompson’s decision to remove the 5,280-pound granite structure in November. Both the panel and the lower court agreed to remove the display set up by Alabama Supreme Court Chief Justice Roy Moore on the grounds that it promoted religion on government property.
"Every government building could be topped with a cross or a menorah or a statue of Buddha, depending upon the views of the officials with authority over the premises," said judge Ed Carnes during the panel’s ruling. Moore's expansive view of church-state relations was demonstrated by his lawyer's "concession at oral argument that if we adopted his position, the chief justice would be free to adorn the walls of the Alabama Supreme Court's courtroom with sectarian religious murals and have decidedly religious quotations painted above the bench.”
"A crèche could occupy the place of honor in the lobby or rotunda of every municipal, county, state and federal building. Proselytizing religious messages could be played over the public address system in every government building at the whim of the official in charge of the premises," Carnes continued.
Advocates for a strict separation of church and state applauded the panel’s decision.
"This is a slam dunk for our side," said Barry Lynn, executive director of Americans United for Separation of Church and State. "The court dismissed every argument Moore and his attorneys raised, one by one, and made it clear that defiance on his part will not be tolerated. This is a
The Americans United and the Alabama affiliate of the ACLU first filed the case, named Glassroth v. Moore, about two months after the display was erected. The Baptist Joint Committee on Public Affairs, The Interfaith Alliance and the Anti-defamation League supported the ACLU suit.
In the full statement, Carnes explained that no evidence exists of a clear history of religious displays in judicial buildings, as there does of prayers to open legislative sessions for the last 200 years in the United States. In comparing the Alabama case with other cases concerning the ten commandments display, Carnes wrote,
"In [the Richmond case], there was no evidence of a non-secular purpose; in this case, there is an abundance of evidence, including parts of the chief justice's own testimony, that his purpose in installing the monument was not secular," he wrote. "In [that case], the image was in the context of another symbol of law; in this case the monument sits prominently and alone in the rotunda of the judicial building."
"That case is readily distinguishable from the Pennsylvania courthouse case because the plaque had been there more than eight decades and no government entity or official has done anything in modern times to highlight or celebrate it existence..." Carnes said as part of the court's reasoning.
The panel rebuked Moore for asserting he "is not answerable to a higher judicial authority" in performing his duties as chief justice. "In the regime he champions, each high government official can decide whether the Constitution requires or permits a federal court order and can act accordingly," Carnes wrote. "That, of course, is the same position taken by those southern governors who attempted to defy federal court orders" during the desegregation era.
The 11th Circuit includes district courts in Alabama, Florida and Georgia. Moore is expected to appeal the ruling to the U.S. Supreme Court.