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Never a dull moment

Prayer Supporters
To Rally In Alabama
But One Legislator Hopes His Opposition
Doesn't Make Him Look Like An "Atheist"
by Conrad Goeringer
from AANEWS by American Atheists


March 12, 1997

That's getting to be the best description of the "Prayer Battle of Alabama" that continues to unfold, pitting supporters of Judge Roy Moore against the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment. So let's start from the beginning ...

In Etowah County, Alabama, Circuit Court Judge Roy Moore has made it a bad habit to begin the day's judicial business with a prayer invocation usually delivered by a local Baptist clergyman. And on the wall above Moore's bench is a hand-carved plaque of the Ten Commandments which, insists the jurist, is there to remind one and all of the "higher law" to which we supposedly should be subject to.

In 1995, these practices were challenged in court by the American Civil Liberties Union on behalf of the Alabama Freethought Society. In November, Judge Charles Price ruled that Moore's prayer was an unconstitutional "establishment" of religion. Later, Price also declared that the Ten Commandments plaque was also unconstitutional, and he ordered the Decalogue removed and the prayer stopped.

Judge Moore appealed the ruling, and has attracted considerable support both within Alabama and from other parts of the nation. Moore supporters have organized vocal, even at times belligerent rallies defending the prayer and Ten Commandments. Alabama Governor Fob James has even threatened to call out the national guard, state police and the University of Alabama football team to resist any order telling Moore to "cease and desist" his religious practices. And the "Prayer Battle of Alabama" has become a lightning rod and altar calling for those religious groups across the country who want to see prayer put back in the nation's schools and other government venues.


In new developments:

The only Senator who reportedly questioned the bill was Pat Lindsey (D-Butler). He nevertheless voted for the proposed amendment, and was quoted by Associated Press as saying: "I don't want anybody to think I'm against this because if you are, you're unpatriotic, a communist or an atheist."

There is a curious development, though, in the stampede for prayer legislation. when the U.S. Congress voted last week in a non-binding resolution to support Judge Moore and his practice of posting the Decalogue and beginning judicial sessions with prayer, the American Center for Law and Justice -- a legal-eagle group formed by televangelist Pat Robertson -- was gushing with praise. Representatives of the group expected the symbolic vote to "influence" the battle for prayer and religious ritual in Alabama.

But the current Alabama amendment proposal seems to be getting a mixed reaction from ACLJ. According to the Center's legal director in Alabama, Stuart Roth, the proposed amendment is "an inappropriate knee-jerk reaction" which "may inevitably open the state up to further constitutional attack and actually -- albeit inadvertently -- strengthen the agenda of those individuals and organizations who would seek to redefine the intent of our founding fathers and cherished heritage." Roth may be remembering similar unsuccessful attempts in Alabama in 1980 to craft an official state prayer for use in the schools; that measure was voided by federal courts.

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Governor plans to fight ruling

Alabama school prayer
law struck down
CNN-AP

March 13, 1997

Montgomery, Alabama -- An Alabama law that required schools to allow voluntary student-initiated prayers at school events was stuck down as unconstitutional Tuesday by a federal judge.

U.S. District Court Judge Ira DeMent said the 1993 law created excessive state entanglement in religion. Michael Chandler, an assistant principal in DeKalb County who challenged the law, said he would "be curious to see if the ruling is obeyed."

Governor Fob James, through a spokesman, said he would not tell the people of Alabama to obey the ruling. James has vowed to use state troopers, if necessary, to allow a judge in Gadsden to continue to conduct prayers in his courtroom and display the Ten Commandments.

The judge, Roy Moore, has been ordered to stop the prayers and remove the display.

Another school prayer measure, which would require teachers to start the day by reading a prayer taken from the Congressional Record, is now moving through the state legislature.

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Judge Finds Prayer
Law Unconstitutional
Ruling Will Fuel Already-Heated Controversy;
May Target Judge Ira DeMent As "Judicial Activist"
by Conrad Goeringer
from AANEWS by American Atheists


March 14, 1997

A federal judge ruled yesterday that a controversial school prayer law in Alabama fostered "excessive entanglement: between government and religion, and was thus unconstitutional. Judge Ira DeMent ruled that the 1993 measure which required all school events to permit "nonsectarian, non-proselytizing student-initiated, voluntary prayer" fostered a situation where some students had "no choice but to listen to the prayers of their peers."

DeMent also found that the Alabama prayer law does not provide any forum who students who wish to "verbally object to prayer."

According to the Los Angeles Times, CNN and other media sources, Governor Fob James said through a spokesman that he was still taking the position that the First Amendment allows everyone to pray "whenever and wherever" they wish, including public school classes and government venues. The Times observed that James "would not tell the people of Alabama to obey the ruling."

The school prayer law was challenged by Michael Chandler, assistant principal at Valley Head Middle School in Talladega County, and a student's mother. Both contended that the ritual forced teachers to permit students to pray out loud during class time and give readings from the Bible; students who did not wish to participate were given the "option" of standing outside the room. Chandler noted that the orchestrated prayer even took place in the school lunch rooms which his 8th grade son attends, and involved up to 175 students. Following yesterday's decision, Chandler told reporters: "I will be curious to see if the ruling is obeyed."

Judge DeMent, a former U.S. Attorney and Republican appointee to the federal bench, cited Alabama's long history of futile attempts to mingle prayer ritual and government. He noted that the state's 1981 "moment of silence" law was ruled unconstitutional, as was similar legislation enacted the following year that specifically conjured "that the Lord God is one." According to the Huntsville (Alabama) Times, the 1982 law included a "suggested prayer" written by one of the governor's sons.

DeMent did, however, list various forms of student religious expression which were permissible. They included wearing religious symbols on clothing, group prayers outside of classes, and homework essays or activities that might reflect a particular religious belief. The decision also singled out the displaying of insignias and icons, "even replicas of the Ten Commandments."


Judicial "Activist" Or "Target"?

Judge DeMent's ruling comes amidst renewed outcries over the issue of religion in public venues, including courtroom and classes, as well as a new hot-button cause for religious conservative -- so-called "judicial activism." The latter issue ignited during debate in Washington last week, where some on Capitol Hill raised the prospect of using "advise and consent" power to block judicial appointees who fail to pass a certain religious or political litmus test.

The dispute began with a series of exchanges in the monthly journal First Things published by the Institute on Religion and Public Life. In the November, 1996 issue, the magazine featured a lead article publicized on the cover with the legend: "The End of Democracy? The Judicial Usurpation of Politics." Inside, the journal's editor, a former Lutheran minister who is now a Roman Catholic Priest, Richard John Neuhaus, presented the arguments that "The government of the United States of America no longer governs by the consent of the governed." Summarizing the literary symposium, the Washington Post observed: "Court decisions on abortion and others condemned in First Things violate what the authors regard as moral law." Joining the fray was former judge Robert H. Bork whose Supreme Court appointment was torpedoed a decade ago. Bork accused "activist judges" of trying to "order our lives and we have no recourse, no means of resisting." He added that "Perhaps an elected official will one day simply refuse to comply with a Supreme Court decision."

Father Neuhaus also compared the 1990's to the period of the American Revolution; but that was too much even for conservative philosopher Gertrude Himmelfarb who resigned from the First Things editorial board, labeling the editor's statement "absurd and irresponsible."

But the First Things debate has many religious and political conservatives fired-up over what they see as judicial interpretations on issues such as abortion, censorship, state's rights and school prayer which -- in their view -- run contrary to the Constitution. The Post cited other issues as well, including court decisions which struck down a Colorado referendum that barred local ordinances prohibiting discrimination against homosexuals, or supporting the constitutionality of physician-assisted suicide.

Thus far, the growing movement against so-called "judicial activism," which has attracted support from religious movements and their counterparts on Capitol Hill, has focused on federal appointees of President Clinton. The flap has even caught conservative Senator Orrin Hatch (R-Utah), chairman of the powerful Senate Judiciary Committee, in the middle. Thomas Jipping of the Judicial Selection Monitoring Project of the Free Congress Foundation, accused the conservative senator of being "chief lobbyist for a number of the most liberal Clinton nominees." For his part, Hatch has expressed reservations about zealously using the Senate's advise and consent power to "block all judicial appointees whose political views we do not agree with."

In the Alabama case, attempts to legislative some form of prayer ritual (whether in schools or court room) inevitably fail at the federal level. The Alabama Supreme Court, whose justices are elected in direct elections, is expected to uphold the right of Etowah County Circuit Judge Roy Moore to begin court proceedings with a Baptist-led prayer, and post a Ten Commandments plaque in his chambers. But in the Moore case, the constitutional violations are so egregious that the practices will most likely be struck down somewhere in the federal appeals process. That inevitability could well lead to charges of "judicial activism" against non-compliant judges, including Judge Ira DeMent, and even Alabama Circuit Court Judge Charles Price who issued the original "cease and desist" ruling against Moore.


Prayer And Belligerence In Alabama

Yesterday's ruling can also be expected to further inflame passions in the "Battle of Alabama" over the issue of government and religion. Governor Fob James has come out squarely in support of Judge Moore, and even threatened to call out the national guard, state police and the University of Alabama football team to resist enforcement of First Amendment Establishment Clause guidelines. While critics charge that James is simply a demagogue, the governor nevertheless appears to be quite serious in positioning himself to confront President Clinton, and presumably the federal government. Governor James has already "dared" Clinton to nationalize the guard -- which might be a necessary step if higher courts find Moore's prayer and Ten Commandments postings to be unconstitutional, and do not comply with state-church separation guidelines.


Extreme Views?

Even the 1993 law which was struck down yesterday did not please many religious and government officials, including state Attorney General Bill Pryor. He told the Gadsden (Alabama) Times that the legislation really limited the free speech of students by permitting only"nonsectarian, non-proselytizing" prayers." Falling back on a disingenuous religious liberty argument, Pryor added: "We are reviewing the order (from Judge DeMent) to evaluate whether the law or any part of it should be defended ... The last thing I want to do is limit the First Amendment rights of public school students to express their religious beliefs and pray voluntarily."

Rep. Bill Fuller (D-Lafayette), who sponsored the 1993 measure, said that yesterday's decision "devalues the role of prayer."

"For the courts to discourage the advancement of spiritual values I think grieves God," he added.

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Court Rulings, First Amendment
Clear on School Prayer Issue
Disingenuous Practice Violate Constitution,
Divide Students, Promote Sectarianism
by Conrad Goeringer
from AANEWS by American Atheists


March 14, 1997

When it comes to school prayer, both the U.S. Supreme Court and the Constitution have been clear -- the practice is legally and ethically wrong. While various forms of religious practice have been permitted in other areas of government (such as the contested practice of opening congressional sessions with prayer, or placing religious graffiti on the nation's money), the issue of school prayer has been exhaustively debated and litigated. Ingenious ruses by school prayer advocates have often failed. Even so, laws protecting students from religious intrusion in classrooms may not be widely observed in many parts of the country, especially the Southern and Midwest "Bible belt" area. Administrators often ignore violations, and social conformity and other pressures can work to dissuade those who might challenge the practice. For many religious groups, the only solution -- outside of openly resisting First Amendment Establishment Clause guidelines -- is some kind of school prayer or "Religious Equality Amendment."


Key Decisions

In a number of cases, the high court has ruled that many forms of orchestrated, school prayer are unconstitutional. In Engle v. Vitale, the high court supported a New York Court of Appeals finding striking down an "officially composed Regent's prayer." That prayer was just one of many attempts to invent a "nondenominational" prayer which would be palatable to all religious groups and presumably offend no one. To this day, school (and government) prayer boosters often try to write a prayer which is sufficiently inclusive as to cover presumably all of the worlds thousands of religious denominations, sects and cults -- a Herculean challenge indeed!

Murray v. Curlett was the first case of its kind brought by an openly avowed Atheist; in fact, the petition in the MURRAY case began by defining Atheism, and questioning the philosophical and ideological assumptions of prayer. While other cases were brought by Unitarians, Jews, Ethical Culturalists and other religionists, MURRAY was, in this respect, the first case of its kind, and an important landmark in the preservation of civil rights for nonbelievers. The 1963 MURRAY ruling found that Bible verse reading and prayer recitation in public schools was unconstitutional; the judges also noted that students were a "captive audience," and the decision criticized the argument that school prayer should be permissible if it allowed dissenting students the "right" to exit the classroom.

Other cases followed Murray and Engle. Wallace v. Jaffree was one of two decisions striking down the disingenuous "moment of silent prayer." In Jager v. Douglas County School District (1992), the Eleventh Circuit Court found football game invocations to be unconstitutional. (Somebody should have asked what would happen if both teams were praying...) The year before, the high court ruled in Lee v. Weisman that prayers during high school graduation ceremonies likewise violated the First Amendment; in Jones v. Clear Creek School District, the Fifth Circuit ruled that graduation prayers were unconstitutional even if they were "student initiated."


Why School Prayer?

Just about all local phone directories will have multiple listings for churches, temples, synagogues and other religious facilities where "people of faith" may gather to pray and engage in religious exercise. Even in public schools, religious students may pray before and after class, during their meals, on school buses. Why, then, the emphasis on prayer in classes?

Part of the answer rests with the desire of certain religious groups to have prayer recognized as part of government, and sanctioned by government authorities. Prayer boosters often cite questionable arguments like "America is a Christian (or 'religious') nation," or that prayer in the classrooms -- in some cases even nondenominational or silent prayer -- will magically alleviated social problems like teen pregnancy, drug abuse, crime and other immoral behaviors. The latter arguments ignores American history; even before the Supreme Court rulings of the early 1960's, prayer in any form was not a widespread practice in the nation's schools. Decades before, for instance, even President Theodore Roosevelt said that it was "not our business to have the Protestant Bible or the Catholic Vulgate or the Talmud read in those (public) schools."

Another factor seems to be an insatiable desire to be seen by others in the act of prayer. These public displays are often linked to venues and symbols associated with government authority -- such as the insistence of having a nativity display or menorah not just on the private grounds of a church or temple, but at City Hall, a court house or some other state-municipal building.

The curious may wish to contemplate why many modern Christians from across the religious-political spectrum wish to parade and showcase their religiosity in public. They break even the advice given in their own holy book, the Bible. Matthew Chapter 6, verses 5-6 reads:

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Muslims Riot Over
Depiction Of Mohammed
At U.S. Supreme Court
by Conrad Goeringer
from AANEWS by American Atheists

Could Violence Spread To U.S.? After all,
Islamicists Did Bomb And Kill Over Rushdie

March 14, 1997

No sooner had the United States Supreme Court rejected a petition from domestic Muslim groups to remove a 66-year-old depiction of the prophet Mohammed from its courtroom than riots over the issue broke out half-way around the world in the Kashmiri capital of Srinagar.

At issue is a marble sculpture on the walls of the high court's chamber depicting Mohammed as one of 18 historical law-givers. The piece was crafted in 1935 by Adolph Weinman (1870-1952) whose other works include the Lincoln Memorial in Madison, Wis., and the facade for the Post Office Department building in Washington, D.C. Weinman also designed the dime and half dollar for the 1916 coin issue, and he executed the bust of Horace Mann which is displayed in the American Hall of Fame.

Last December, Islamists noticed the depiction of Mohammed, and declared that the display violated Muslim law which prohibits the showing of any countenance of the "prophet." A coalition of Islamic groups lobbied to have the image sand blasted, and even offered to pay for the project and to replace it with a marble inscription bearing quotations from the Koran.

On Wednesday, Chief Justice William Rehnquist said that altering the frieze would damage the artistry of the work. "It is part of the architectural and aesthetic unit that has been in place more than 60 years," wrote Rehnquist adding, "Altering the depiction of Mohammed would impair the artistic integrity of the whole."

But a member of the Council on American-Islamic Relations told Reuter news service that "The image remains, so our concerns remain. It is a matter of principle for us." He said that the coalition was consulting with other groups, and added that "We are in it for the long haul." The coalition also said that it objected to the specific depiction of Mohammed who is shown with a sword in his hand; he is standing between images of Charlemagne and the Emperor Justinian.

But in Kashmiri, the issue over a depiction of Mohammed in the U.S. flared, and raised memories of riots several years ago when another group of Muslims demanded the death of author Salman Rushdie, and the banning of his controversial novel The Satanic Verses. Stone-throwing Muslim activists battled riot police during the confrontation; as yet, there is no word of casualties.

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AANEWS Special Report ...

Alabama Prayer Fight:
"Ambush" For Impeachment?

A Legal Group Linked To The
Alabama Prayer Controversy Raises
Question About The Tactic Of Judicial
Impeachment And The First Amendment

by Conrad Goeringer
from AANEWS by American Atheists


March 18, 1997

The involvement of a legal foundation in the current flap over public prayer in Alabama schools and courtrooms is raising new concerns that the issue might fuel a growing "impeachment mania" directed at judges who do not pass a certain religious or political litmus test. The National Legal foundation -- described by Associated Press as a "Virginia organization that promotes Christianity in government" -- is playing a key role in helping Etowah (Alabama) Circuit Court Judge Roy Moore defending his practice of posting a Ten Commandments plaque in his chambers, and beginning official judicial proceedings with a Baptist-orchestrated prayer. Moore's actions led to a 1995 lawsuit filed by the American Civil Liberties Union on behalf of the Alabama Freethought Society. In November, another Circuit Court Judge, Charles Price, found the prayer ritual to be unconstitutional. He later determined that the Decalogue display, which sits above Moore's dais, was a "religious" display, and ordered it taken down. Moore has refused, and the case is now in front of the Alabama State Supreme Court which has issued a stay on Judge Price's order.

The case has attracted national interest, and Moore has picked up support from the country's religious conservatives who see the fight as a important First Amendment issue. Moore also has drawn praise from Alabama Governor Fob James who has threatened to mobilize the state's national guard, police and even the University of Alabama football team in resisting any order telling Moore to stop his controversial practices. James has "dared" President Clinton to federalize the state guard should the prayer and Ten Commandments posting fail to pass constitutional muster, as expected.

The involvement of the National Legal Foundation in the Moore case, though, raises the specter of an even wider agenda, specifically the growing call for impeachment of "activist" judges who do not give favorable rulings on issues such as school prayer, religious displays, censorship of objectionable materials, abortion and other hot-button issues. There are growing rumblings in religious-conservative ranks for these judicial impeachments spurred, in part by an exchange of opinions in the monthly journal First Things published by the Institute on Religion and Public Life. Former Lutheran minister-turned Roman Catholic priest Richard John Neuhaus suggested in the November, 1996 issue that "The government of the United States no longer governs by the consent of the governed." The Washington Post summarized that from the perspective of some religious conservatives, "Court decisions on abortion and others condemned in First Things violate what the authors regard as moral law."


"Religious Rebellion" And The Rejection of Pluralism

Frustrated by what they perceive as inactivity or breakdown in the legal system, a number of diverse groups appear to be increasingly drawn toward an extreme position of "rejecting the system," and resulting to strategies outside -- or near the edges -- of the pluralist political system. In the 50's, 60's and 70's, of course, the rejection of establishment politics was embraced as part of the "Great Refusal" advocated by new left philosopher Herbert Marcuse and others. Civil rights sit-ins and marches, protests against the Vietnam War and other examples of civil disobedience became a hallmark of the era.

The failure of the Reagan administration during the 1980's in implementing certain portions of a religious conservative social agenda, though, resulted in growing polarization within religious right groups. More extreme movements, frustrated by the failure to obtain their goals through legislation or even the courts, began to adopt some of the tactics traditionally identified with the political left two decades before. Organizations such as Operation Rescue started to employ civil disobedience in efforts to shut down abortion clinics; Britain's Daily telegraphed observed recently that the anti-abortion movement has resulted in more arrests (over 85,000) than the struggle for black civil rights during the 1950's and 1960's.

Frustration, suspicion and varying degrees of rejecting "the system" are factors in the centrifugal social tendencies which now unite a growing segment of movements, from militant anti-abortion groups to hunkered-down militias worried about race war, the Antichrist, or the "new world order." To varying degrees, they express disenchantment with the mechanisms of pluralist politics. In some cases, groups which embrace bizarre religious creeds such as Christian Identity symbolize a rejection of problematic modernity and secularism. In addition, the growing clamor against "judicial activism" and calls for impeachment as a widespread political tool signifies one more step in a process of alienation now afflicting some segments of the religious right. The discussion in First Things, which attracted significant media coverage of this otherwise obscure theological-political journal has prompted some to question even the legitimacy of the current government, or cast it in the role of being "contrary to God's plan."


The National Legal Foundation

The Foundation, currently working on the prayer case with Judge Roy Moore, states that its objective is to "prayerfully creative ... innovative strategies that ... will cause America's public policy and legal system to support and facilitate God's purpose." The Executive Director of the group, Steven Fitschen, told reporters that the phrase "separation of church and state" appears nowhere in the Constitution. According to the Gadsden (Alabama) Times, Fitschen also declared that Moore's courtroom religiosity "is just a very passive expression of a person's acknowledgment of God," adding "we're not dealing with a practice where you're ramming religion down someone's throat."

The National Legal Foundation was associated with televangelist Pat Robertson until 1988. Robert Boston's biography of the Christian Coalition Founder, "The Most Dangerous Man in America?" (1996) says that the NLF was "abandoned" by Robertson, who apparently "had some kind of falling out with its director..." In 1990, Robertson's quest for a powerful legal arm to supplement the outreach of his Christian Broadcasting Network and other operations led to the creation of the American Center for Law and Justice. Like ACLJ, the National Legal foundation -- which has its main office in Virginia Beach, Va. (also home to Pat Robertson's various operations) -- operates through a network of referral attorneys, estimated by the Huntsville (Ala.) Times to number about 200. In addition to promoting "Christianity in government," other NLF goals include:


Humanist Religion, Evolution and Alabama

The Moore case is not the first time that the National Legal Foundation has entered the fray in Alabama culture war politics. In the mid-1980's, the organization provided legal support in a suit involving over 600 religious fundamentalist parents throughout the state who sued the public schools in Alabama over the use of "objectionable" textbooks. The target was "secular humanism" in the curriculum, but objections were voiced to contents which smacked of evolution, diversity, or sex education. Working with NLF was Concerned Women for America headed by Beverly LaHaye, an associate of both Robertson and Moral Majority founder Jerry Falwell.

Ironically, the judge in the case turned out to be Brevard Hand, who back in January of 1983 had upheld a state law authorizing a moment of "silent prayer" in Alabama public schools.

In 1987, the case reached federal court; a judge moved to ban 44 textbooks from public schools throughout Alabama on the grounds that they fostered the "religion" of "secular humanism." That ruling was overturned later by an appellate court.


Impeachment: A New Ruse

Attempts to hang the label of "secular humanism" on school texts or curriculums dealing with topics such as sexuality failed in the courtroom; that strategy now appears to be overshadowed by recent calls for using impeachment as a way of putting jurists favorable to the religious right social agenda on the bench, or at least ridding the juridical system of judges who will not cater to groups like Robertson's ACLJ or the National Legal Foundation. Speaking recently on the program "Legal Notebook," Foundation director Steven Fitschen commented that "It's clear that in the last 30 years at least, probably longer, we have judicial activists who certainly are subverting the fundamental laws, they're certainly introducing arbitrary power; and in particular cases, they are writing unconstitutional opinions." The Foundation promotes a booklet titled "Impeachment of the Federal Judiciary," which is being marketed alongside a similar tract, "Impeachment: Restraining an Overactive Judiciary" by David Barton of the WallBuilders organization. Like the lawyers from NLF, Mr. Barton has become a leading religious right proponent of the notion that the "wall of separation" spoken of by Thomas Jefferson "has no basis in American law or history." A number of Barton's materials -- including segments of his book and video, "The Myth of Separation" -- have been exposed for carrying questionable, bogus or unsubstantiated quotes from historical figures.


Related developments in the Alabama prayer case:

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Alabama Governor
Appoints Astrologer To Board
by Conrad Goeringer
from AANEWS by American Atheists


March 21, 1997

Is it demagoguery or ignorance? In the hard-fisted world of Southern belt politics, religious proselytizing often turns out the votes which might account for the belligerence of one political animal in those parts, Alabama Governor Fob James. James has attracted national headlines and praise for his support of embattled Etowah County Judge Roy Moore, the fellow who insists on opening daily court business with a prayer and posts his own hand-carved plaque of the Ten Commandments on his chamber wall. (And we thought they were stone!). James is noted for grandstanding and demagoging; in the Moore case, he has threatened to call out the Alabama national guard, the state po-lice (no typo intended, folks) and even the University of Alabama football team in order to resist the "federals" if an order is handed down to stop prayer and proselytizing in the state's schools or courtrooms. As we've observed on our web site, James is either gunning for a lead in a remake of "The Ten Commandments," or he envisions himself as a cross between Joan of Arc, George Wallace and Huey Long.

But we never thought that James' brand of mysticism and superstition exactly meshed with the kind of popular pseudoscience you find on those ads for astrologers and other soothsayers advertised on those psychic hotlines. Maybe we were wrong. Seems that James appointed a Rev. Franklin Tate to head the governor's Citizens Commission on Youth Violence. Tate is pastor of the Victory Center Baptist Church in Birmingham and something called the Franklin Tate Ministries, which according to the Huntsville (Alabama Times) uses astrology as a way of trying to reach the so-called "un-churched." Tate apparently works as an astrologer, saying that his penchant for the divining art is a "gift from god" which, he insists is "for learning and conveying to the public (sic)." The Youth Commission head has even come to the attention of the evangelical Watchman Fellowship, a Christian group which studies cults; a regional director for that group told media that Tate charges up to $100 for an astrology session.

Tate seems to be as much of a showman and grandstand type as Fob James. He made headlines in 1995 when he conducted a hunger strike on behalf of an organization called Mothers Against Violence; he demanded that James name a citizen's committee to deal with the problem of youth violence so (naturally) it appears that the governor followed the time-honored tradition of doling out the job to the wheel that squeaked the most. Tate also runs a "Youth Threat Hot Line," and has become an avid campaigner for prayer in public schools.

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Judge Moore Hits
D.C., Group
Formed to Promote
God in Government

Bill Murray Calls Upon Deity
To "Bless" Jurist Who Prays In Court

by Conrad Goeringer
from AANEWS by American Atheists


March 21, 1997

Controversial Alabama state judge Roy Moore, rolled into the nation's capital on Wednesday, receiving a plaque bearing the House of Representative resolution in support of his stand on religion in the courtroom, and an appearance on Pat Robertson's "700 Club" television program.

Evangelist William Murray, son of missing atheist leader Madalyn Murray O'Hair, grabbed the mike during a press conference which featured the judge, and implored "Father, we thank you for men such as Judge Moore who are willing to stand up for their beliefs."

Those "beliefs" include opening judicial proceedings with a Baptist invocation, and posting a hand-carved plaque of the Ten Commandments on his courtroom wall. Those practices were challenged in 1995 by the ACLU, acting on behalf of the Alabama Freethought Society. Another Circuit judge ruled in November that the opening prayer was unconstitutional, and later ordered Moore to remove the Decalogue plaque as well. The case is now under review by the Alabama Supreme Court which is expected to uphold the controversial practice. Moore has the enthusiastic support of religious groups throughout the country, including the Christian Coalition and Governor Fob James who has threatened to call out the Alabama national guard, state police and even the University of Alabama football squad if necessary to resist any order ending the prayer and Decalogue posting.

Moore's visit to Washington was sponsored by the National Clergy Council, which last year issued a negative "moral fitness" evaluation of President Bill Clinton. According to the Washington Times, funding for the visit came from a group of local Amway distributors. Amway is operated by the wealthy DeVos family which subsidizes a number of religious conservative causes.

At a press conference, Moore declared that government had grown hostile toward religious practice, and promised to fight the prayer case "as far as my duty takes me." That elicited a number of "Amen" remarks from the largely sympathetic audience. He also acknowledged that the prayer controversy in Alabama could result in legal problems, but insisted that he ultimately answered not to the constitution but to a "higher law."

The House resolution plaque was presented by Republican Congressman Robert Aderholt, who represents the 4th District where Moore presides. An identical resolution has been presented in the Senate by Alabama's Jeff Sessions and Richard Shelby. During yesterday's ceremony, both men in turn were given turquoise replica tablets of the Ten Commandments by Rev. Robert Schenck of the National Clergy Council. That might have been even too much for the Washington Times, however, which noted that the replicas are for sale at $100. A pamphlet promoting the ersatz plaques notes: "Your gift is tax-deductible."

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