Ten Commandments Monument Still in Place

Lawyers say they won't seek sanctions against defiant judge
Aug 22, 2003 06:05 PM EDT

MONTGOMERY, Ala. -- Lawyers seeking removal of a Ten Commandments monument from a judicial building's rotunda told a federal judge today they would not press to have the state's chief justice held in contempt for refusing to move it.

The lawyers also said they would not seek to have the state fined, telling U.S. District Judge Myron Thompson on a conference call that they were convinced the monument would be out of the state building by next week despite the resistance of Chief Justice Roy Moore.

"Our concern all along has been compliance with the Constitution. Once the monument has been removed, our concerns will have been addressed," said attorney Ayesha Khan, who participated in the call.

After Thompson's deadline had passed, Moore's eight associate justices on the state's high court on Thursday ordered the granite marker taken out of the rotunda. But court officials were still trying to determine where it might go in the building -- it weighs 5,300 pounds -- and if the area would allow proper security.

About 40 demonstrators remained outside to support Moore, who installed the monument in the rotunda where visitors can easily see it and refused to move it even after Thompson ruled that the public display violated a constitutional ban on government promotion of religious doctrine.

Moore, who plans an appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court, contends it is a proper acknowledgment of God and the moral foundation of American law.

He spoke today with the Alabama Judicial Building's manager, Graham George, who was instructed by other justices to carry out the removal. The conversation took place near the monument, but it wasn't known what the men discussed. George hasn't said when, how or where the monument will be moved.

An organizer of pro-Moore demonstrations, Patrick Mahoney of the Christian Defense Coalition, said today the demonstrations would continue as long as the monument is still in the building.

"Our message is clear. We are going to peacefully block the way if they try to move it," Mahoney said.

Attorney General Bill Pryor, speaking for the eight associate justices, told Thompson on the conference call that building officials were considering potential security problems because of the ongoing demonstrations as they sought the best location for the monument, according to Khan. Khan is an attorney for Americans United for Separation of Church and State, one of the groups seeking removal of the monument.

Under Thompson's order, the monument could go in Moore's office. But according to Khan, Moore said it was too heavy.

The supporters kept vigil this morning from sleeping bags and bedrolls strewn outside the building.

The Rev. Herman Henderson of Believers' Tabernacle in Birmingham opted to nap on the concrete with his head resting on sheet music for the song, "I Shall Not Be Moved."

They remained quiet throughout the night, prompting police to retreat to their post across the street.

Lawyers suing to remove the monument also have filed a complaint with the state Judicial Inquiry Commission, citing Moore's refusal to obey a court order to move the monument.

The complaint alleges Moore violated canons of judicial ethics. The commission, which operates like a grand jury, met today behind closed doors. It can send a case to the Court of the Judiciary, which holds trials and has the power to discipline and remove judges.

Richard Cohen, a Southern Poverty Law Center attorney who is representing plaintiffs, said those filing the complaint against Moore were not asked to meet with the commission. He said Moore was given an opportunity to meet with the commission today, but it wasn't immediately known if he did.

One demonstrator, retired Birmingham school teacher Murray Phillips, said she knows the monument will probably be gone from the rotunda soon.

"I'm upset, but I'm not surprised. At least I am going to be able to say to my grandchildren that at least I tried to do something," Phillips said.