Graphic Rule

Stop All Federal Abuses Now!
S.A.F.A.N. Internet Newsletter
No. 376, April 13, 1997

Thousands Rally Against
Alabama Supreme Court
by Paul Andrew Mitchell
(pmitch@primenet.com) http://www.supremelaw.com


April 13, 1997

MONTGOMERY, Alabama -- Thousands of people, including two of Alabama's highest elected officials, protested the separation of church and state at the state Capitol Saturday, condemning the Supreme Court for keeping religion out of public schools, courtrooms and other government venues.

At a three-hour rally, Christian Coalition leader Ralph Reed, Alabama Gov. Fob James and state Attorney General Bill Pryor pledged their support for a state judge who has come under fire in recent months for praying in court and displaying the 10 Commandments on the wall behind his bench.

While the rally's invective was aimed mainly at the Supreme Court and the American Civil Liberties Union, its rhetoric at times veered into a condemnation of legal abortion and gay people.

"The greatest domestic need in the American political system today is a U.S. president who would refuse to enforce U.S. Supreme Court decisions based on judicial fraud ... and a U.S. Congress to impeach judges for subverting the Constitution," James told the cheering crowd, estimated by police at between 20,000 and 25,000 people.

The "Save the Commandments" rally was sponsored by 37 national and state religious organizations as a means of generating support for Etowah County Circuit Judge Roy Moore, who has been battling with the ACLU for two years.

The ACLU sued in federal court in 1995 to stop Moore from opening his court with prayer and to make him remove a hand-carved tablet bearing the 10 Commandments from his Anniston courtroom, 150 miles away.

The federal suit was thrown out on a technicality, but a Montgomery County circuit judge later decided against Moore in two separate rulings. Both rulings have since been stayed by the Alabama Supreme Court pending appeals by the state.

"You do not stand alone," declared Reed, whose Christian Coalition claims 2.5 million members nationwide. "As long as there's breath in our bodies, the 10 Commandments will never come down from this courtroom."

Pryor, who argued Moore's case while still a deputy attorney general, condemned the 1973 Roe vs. Wade Supreme Court decision that legalized abortion, telling his audience that he became a lawyer to fight the ACLU.

"God has chosen, through his son Jesus Christ, this time and this place for all Christians ... to save our country and save our courts," he announced.

One member of the crowd waved a homemade placard inviting renowned civil rights attorney Morris Dees, the state ACLU president and newly out-of-the-closet television actress Ellen Degeneres to "Burn In Hell."

Graphic Rule

The Assembly of IaHUShUA MaShIaChaH
"To Seek out that which was Lost..."
http://www.iahushua.com/

My Journey Home
by J.J. Johnson


April 15, 1997

Graphic Rule

Huntsville Times

"I want to stand up
for Jesus"
by John Peck
Huntsville Times State Capital Correspondent

Supporters say it's time
to announce their views

A rally in support of Judge Roy Moore's
stand for the Ten Commandments draws
thousands of people from across the nation

April 13, 1997

MONTGOMERY -- With a flag in one hand, a rally brochure in the other and a blanket under her arm, Sarah Barnett eagerly gave the street vendor $10 for a "Ten Commandments" T-shirt and scurried off into the crowd.

"I want to stand up for Jesus," she said as she draped the oversized shirt over her blouse and moved toward the front of the crowd.

Barnett, from Mobile, said it was her first collection of the Ten Commandments other than what's in her Bible.

Barnett was among thousands of people who rallied on the State Capitol here Saturday in support of Gadsden Judge Roy Moore in his fight to keep prayer and the Ten Commandments in his courtroom.

Although organizers, quoting Capitol police, placed the crowd at 20,000 to 25,000, the turnout seemed closer to the 10,000 to 12,000 people Capitol police said were on hand for Gov. Fob James' 1995 inaugural. Police later acknowledged their estimate could be off as much as 5,000.

Clouds and intermittent sprinkles failed to dampen the enthusiasm of participants during pre-rally festivities that included a lively gospel band. By the time the main event got under way, sunny skies prevailed.

Moore set off a legal holy war when he fought a lawsuit filed by the American Civil Liberties Union claiming religion has no place in the courtroom. His stance -- backed by Gov. Fob James who threatened to use the National Guard to protect Moore's courtroom religious practices -- quickly gained national attention, prompting state and national religious leaders to organize a rally on his behalf.

From Riverside, Calif., from Syracuse, N.Y., from Melbourne, Fla., from all over, Moore supporters descended on Montgomery for Saturday's revival-like demonstration.


Blaming themselves

Many said they blamed themselves and church leaders for failing to speak out against court decisions over the years on issues such as abortion, school prayer and homosexual rights.

Martha Stott, a homemaker from Evansville, Ind., heard about Moore's fight on Christian radio last week and decided to make the nine-hour drive to demonstrate her support.

"I believe the Christians have been silent for so long. It's time we make our views known," she said. "I hope this will be a wake-up call."

Merre Putnam of Carthage, Mo., was more blunt in her assessment of court decisions she said have stifled the right to honor God. "We've allowed the Devil to walk in our front door and stop our religious freedoms," she said.

Putnam wore a sandwich board that read: "The laws of natures and the natures of God cannot be overturned by judicial tyranny."

Auto shop owner Mark Rizzo of Riverside, Calif., caught the red-eye flight from the West Coast to take part in what he described as a new wave of Christian activism.

"In the '60s, when prayer was removed from the schools, the church sat by and watched," he said. "All this judge is asking for is to acknowledge God; he's not asking to proselytize. He is not trying to establish a national religion."

Larry Kilgore, an engineer from Aurora, Colo., flew in with his wife and three children just to take part in Saturday's rally. Kilgore, who ran for the Colorado state Legislature under the Constitution Party, said he came to show his respect to James for "standing up to the federal government."

Reminded that former Gov. George Wallace did the same in his segregationist stand during the '60s, Kilgore said the difference is that Wallace "did so for the wrong reason."

Mike Cupples, chairman of the Madison County Christian Coalition, said the demonstration went beyond supporting Moore's display of the Ten Commandments.

"The reason we're here is for the cause of religious liberty," he said.


Not all are supporters

Not all participants were pro-Moore.

Signs dispersed among the crowd carried messages such as: "This is not Roy Moore's Church," "Church and State: Keep them Separate," and "Jesus Christ was no Bigot."

Greg Bass of Decatur came to support Moore thinking his Southern League organization was going to be a rally co-sponsor. However, the association, which believes in secession of the South, was rejected because of its views.

Bass said he still believes in Moore's cause but is disturbed his organization was shut out of sponsorship of the event.

The demonstration for Moore turned into a passionate litany against what many conservatives believe are evils killing America: liberal courts, abortion, television and civil libertarians.

For example, Pat Pinkston rode a bus with 54 other anti-abortion activists from Melbourne, Fla., to advertise his cause.

Pinkston paraded through the crowd with a huge poster of a grotesque aborted fetus. Pinkston said his group's participation was relevant because a ban on murder is one of the Ten Commandments.

"It seems like anything with moral values, the ACLU is on the other side," he said. "It's just time to take a stand."

ACLU-bashing was a recurring theme among speakers and rally participants. Attorney General Bill Pryor drew one of the biggest applauses of the day in denouncing the organization as the "Anti-American Civil Liberties Union."

Martin McCafferty, state chapter president of the ACLU, said he expected such attacks.

McCafferty accused rally organizers of violating the Commandments against bearing false witness by distorting court rulings and exaggerating crowd estimates.

"We're here protecting religious liberties by keeping government out of religion," he said. "If the people here believe that the only way Christianity can prosper and survive is government intervention, it speaks very poorly of their religion."

In addition to Moore and James, speakers included leaders in the religious right movement such as Ralph Reed of the Christian Coalition, former GOP presidential contender and Alabama A&M University president Alan Keyes, and Donald Wildmon of the American Family Association.

Former U.S. Sen. Jeremiah Denton, a Republican from Mobile, urged the crowd to not lose sight of its place in the fight for Moore.

"We are not arrogantly saying God is on our side. We're humbly asking that we'll be on his side," he said.

James compared liberal court decisions on issues such as school prayer to the Berlin Wall, with freedom on one side and tyranny on the other.

"We have a wall of separation in the U.S., not by the people but by a few elitist judges," he said.


Flags waving

U.S. and Confederate flags waved over a sea of people, along with countless posters of the Ten Commandments. A banner on a huge speaker stand read: "Moore 10: ACLU 0."

Moore told the crowd he hopes the rally will send a message across the country that the U.S. Constitution does not prevent acknowledging God.

"The question I am most often asked is, what am I running for," Moore said. "Let me say I am not running for anything. But I am not running away either."

The crowd roared.

Graphic Rule

Huntsville Times

Rally provides
a lesson in freedom
for protester
by Peter St. Onge
Huntsville Times Staff Writer


April 13, 1997

MONTGOMERY -- Noon. A young man paces in anxious circles in front of the Capitol steps. It is one hour before the Save the Commandments Rally, and the crowd around him has grown to more than 5,000 people. He is feeling very alone.

He carries a sign. "This Is Not A Christian Nation," one side says. The other side reads: "The 10 Commandments Don't Need Saving!!!"

He glances around nervously.

"I'm looking for some friends," he says.

His name is Daniel Pruett. He is a Nike-capped sociology major at Auburn University at Montgomery.

He is about to get some lessons in freedom.

"What does that sign say?" a middle-aged man asks.

Adam Butler, a student at the University of Alabama at Birmingham, protests against the rally.

Pruett shows him the "Not A Christian Nation" side.

"That's right," the man says. "We used to be a Christian nation. We're getting further from it every day."

The man walks away, punch line delivered.

Daniel Pruett expects this today. He says he decided anyway to come to the rally, although he's not sure exactly why. He's never protested anything before, he says, and he's not terribly angry about Judge Roy Moore's Ten Commandments.

In fact, he says he believes in the Commandments, and he understands why Moore's stand has touched something deep in many Christians. But he thinks that non-Christians are being left out.

"It just bothered me," he says. "I started to get irritated reading the newspapers."

Right now, though, he's the irritant.

"I'd hate to know I was coming before God with that sign," one man says to him.

"What does that dollar bill in your pocket say?" another asks, then answers: "It says, 'Under God.'"

Pruett nods, then tries one of his best lines: "Do you know how many Muslims there are in this country?"

"Their God died, and he's still dead," the man says. "Jesus died, and he rose."

Pruett has no answer.


Passionate protest

At 12:15 p.m., the rally begins with some musical warm-up from a gospel choir. Pruett looks relieved, puts the sign down by his side, tries to hide a bit. But he is circled by two more men wanting to discuss his sign, then two more after that. Some are reasonable, some are not. All of them touch Pruett's arm as they talk.

One, a heavy equipment salesman from Garyville, La., named Jim Martin, is particularly passionate.

"We've got homosexuals parading in the streets tongue-kissing!" he says. "But you don't want a public display of religion?"

"No," Pruett says. "Today is a public display, and that's fine."

"Next thing you know," says Martin, "the government won't let us use the name Jesus in our own church!"

"I don't believe that's true," responds Pruett.

"The reason people are out here is because they've had it up to here with pagans and sodomites making the rules!" Martin retorts.

By then the man is shouting, and a plainclothed security officer pulls him aside and tells him to calm down. Another man steps in and makes a quieter plea to Pruett. A woman joins the discussion, then another man.

Each argues the same arguments. Each gets the same responses from Pruett. It is all very rapid fire, a spray of unrequited opinions. Freedom of speech doesn't mean anyone has to listen.

"You're not hearing what I have to say," one man says.

"I heard you," Pruett says, "but you haven't heard me."

"I've heard it a million times."

"I've heard yours a million times, too."


Finding a niche

By 2 p.m. the rally is in full bustle. Gov. Fob James has received an ovation, as has Attorney General Bill Pryor. Master of ceremonies John Giles tells the crowd that the estimated attendance is 20,000-25,000. "Only if you're seeing double," says a man in a Jesus T-shirt.

Pruett is tired now. He stands a few feet from the pro-Moore clusters. His sign is tucked under his arm.

"I feel like I'm repeating myself over and over," he says.

Just then, a young woman walks by. "Separate Church and State," her sign reads. She walks toward a group carrying similar messages. Pruett perks up.

"I've found them!" he says.

These are his friends?

"No," he says. "This is my niche."

Soon, however, a Montgomery police officer approaches and asks the group to move away from the rally limits. He informs them that if they are protesting against the rally, they need licenses for their signs. This, he says, is state law.

Even freedoms have their limits.

One girl, Angela Henry from the University of Alabama at Birmingham, says she will not move. "This is public property," she says.

"We're not talking principle here," the officer says. "This is the law. If you don't move, we will forcibly move you."

The students don't move. Some pro-Moore rallygoers urge the police on. A young woman stands a few feet away, hauntingly singing "God loves all people. Jesus loves everyone" again and again. For a moment, an incident looms.

But the officers regroup, then watch the media descend on the potential confrontation, then decide that maybe a confrontation isn't such a good idea. Instead, they form a wide circle around the students to make sure they don't roam and stir up trouble.

By then, Pruett is rejuventated. He talks with the other students about school and what brought them here. He listens intently while his new friends have the same arguments with rallygoers that he did earlier. Taking the unpopular position is easier when you're not alone.

"There are a lot of people here who feel like I do," he says.

Not really, but there are enough. And Daniel Pruett will spend the rest of the rally with them. He is not sure that he has learned anything, but he's not sure that he has changed anyone else's mind, either. He's just glad he's had the chance to try.

So he walks back toward the group of student protesters. He smiles while one does a television interview. He steps back when a pro-Moore person leans in to argue.

"Our government is trying to take away our freedom of expression!" a speaker shouts from the stage, but Daniel Pruett is holding his sign high, and Judge Roy Moore's backers are holding their signs high, and everyone seems to be expressing themselves just fine.

Graphic Rule

Prayer Rally Supports Moore,
Religious Freedom Amendment
by Conrad Goeringer
with Larry Mundinger, Margie Wait and Barb Buttram
from AANEWS by American Atheists

Thousands Turn out to Support Moore:
Coalition Director Calls for Push
on Religious Freedom Amendment

April 13, 1997

Standing before a sea of Ten Commandments posters, confederate flags and signs, Christian Coalition Director Ralph Reed yesterday told a prayer rally in Montgomery, Alabama that Christians had "no choice but to amend the Constitution of the United States" in order to practice their religion in the public square.

A crowd estimated at 25,000 persons turned out in front of the Alabama state capitol to support Etowah County Judge Roy Moore, who says that he intends to continue the practice of opening court proceedings with a Baptist orchestrated prayer, and will continue to post a copy of the Decalogue in his chambers. Moore's defiance of the First Amendment has become an altar call for religious activists throughout the country. Yesterday's rally, organized by a coalition of diverse religious and partitionist groups under the name "Save Our Commandments," was meant as a show of support for the embattled Judge and other public officials who have spoken out on behalf of prayer in government, including Governor Fob James. James has stated that he will support Moore and the continued use of prayer and religious icons in schools, court rooms and other government venues, and if necessary call out the Alabama national guard, state police, and the University of Alabama football squad.

Associated Press noted in an evening dispatch: "The demonstration for Judge Moore turned into a litany against liberal courts, abortion, television and civil libertarians." Christian rock music was broadcast from huge public address speakers as the crowd began to assemble. Along with American and Confederate flags were banners denouncing state-church separation and the American Civil Liberties Union. During the three-hour event, speakers praised Judge Moore, blasted "judicial activism" and called for support of the Religious Freedom Amendment recently reintroduced into the U.S. Congress.

Governor James told the enthusiastic crowd: "The greatest domestic need in the American political system today is a U.S. President who would refuse to enforce U.S. Supreme Court decisions based on judicial fraud ... and a U.S. Congress to impeach judges for subverting the Constitution." He added: "In a nation founded on principles that we were created by an almighty God, we teach our children that they evolved from reptiles and animals, and then we wonder why they act like animals."

Judge Moore also addressed the gathering, telling supporters that "Your presence today will send a message across this nation. This message is clear: We must -- nay, we will -- have God back in America again."


Extremism Carries The Day

It was evident from signs and banners, and the remarks made by various speakers, that the "Save Our Commandments" prayer rally became a focus for other causes, not the just the immediate question of prayer and religious display in public buildings. Extreme groups, some of them identified with Southern partitionism and secessionism had become sponsors of the Sunday event. When the bigoted and racist nature of one sponsors web site became obvious, the content was quickly deleted. The web page for the Council of Conservative Citizens dropped references to "mongrel races" and "multiracial mafias" .

But that didn't stop extreme views from being blared from the podium. Speaker George Grant, an evangelist linked to extreme charismatic organizations including the Morris Cerullo ministry and the Promise Keepers movement, cited an alleged decline in morality. Grant's 1993 book titled "Legislating Immorality: The Homosexual Movement Comes out of the Closet" cited Biblical justifications for executing homosexuals, and told readers: "Sadly, the 20th century saw this remarkable 2,000-year-old commitment suddenly dissipate." A number of signs throughout the crowd denounced gays and Ellen Degeneres, whose character on the sitcom "Ellen" will announce that she is a lesbian in an episode scheduled for next month. (Thus far, the only ABC affiliate which has announced that it will not air that controversial installment of "Ellen" is the station in Birmingham, Alabama.) At least one sign at the prayer rally invited civil rights attorney Morris Dees, the state head of the American Civil Liberties Union and Ms. Degeneres to "Burn in Hell."

Another speaker, Rev. Clifford Terrell told the group: "We are drawing a line in the sand and saying 'Devil, you've taken enough from us!'" That seemed to resonate with many of the Moore supporters; according to media reports, rally participants expressed approval for what they saw as a "new wave of Christian activism" on behalf of the Judge and the cause of prayer and religion in the public square.

Former presidential candidate Alan Keyes, head of the Declaration Foundation, told the rally that he sees a widespread religious revival sweeping the nation. "The greatest danger we face today is those who in the name of freedom tell us we must turn our backs on God," said Keyes adding, "When judges decide they should legislate from the bench, our legislature should impeach them."


Reed: Rally To Build Support For RFA

Despite the participation of extreme groups like the Southern League and Council of Conservative Citizens, Christian Coalition Director Ralph Reed decided to participate in the event. The coalition chapter in Alabama distributed thousands of pamphlets boosting the Sunday rally, and urged supporters from other states to participate. Reed told the crowd that "there are many more of your brothers and sisters who stand with you."

"We say to the federal court, we say to liberal media, we say to the ACLU, you have gone this far, you will go no further. "

Reed also declared that "Christians have no alternative left but to amend the constitution of the United States so we may exercise our faith in the public square," and called for support of the proposed Religious Freedom Amendment. He also encouraged the crowd to stand firm behind Judge Moore. "You do not stand alone ... As long as there's breath in our bodies, the Ten Commandments will never come down from this courtroom."

A similarly defiant attitude was enunciated by Bill Pryor, the top law enforcement officer in Alabama who serves as the state Attorney General. Pryor argued the original case in defense of Moore . He told the Montgomery rally that he became a lawyer so that he could fight the American Civil Liberties Union, and he used his time at the podium to condemn such evils as secularism and abortion. "God has chosen, through his son Jesus Christ, this time and this place for all Christians ... to save our country and save our courts," Pryor declared.


Little Media Recognition of Dissent

Unfortunately, early media coverage of yesterday's "Save Our Commandments" rally mentioned little of the protest organized by Adam Butler and individuals from the Alabama Freethought Association which originally initiated the suit against Judge Moore and his proselytizing in the courtroom. Today's Gadsden (Alabama) Times notes that Thomas Hart of AFA "and several others carried placards which advocated the separation of church and state." Mr. Hart is quoted: "I believe our Constitution was founded without religion and in order to protect that religion we have that separation." Another protester identified as Rachel Doughty told the Times: "It disturbs me that our government seems to be sanctioning one form of religion." Jewish protester Wayne Willis declared: "What I hear here, minus the violence, is the same thing I hear from Skinheads."


Ahead: The Battle For RFA

If rally organizers have their way, Sunday's gathering will ignite support and activism on behalf of the Religious Freedom Amendment which, for the third time, has been introduced into Congress. The current version, authored by Rep. Ernest Istook, appears on the surface to be disarmingly simple. It speaks of the goal: "To secure the people's right to acknowledge God: The right to pray or acknowledge religious belief, heritage or tradition on public property, including public schools..." Christian Coalition Director Ralph Reed and other religious right luminaries joined Rep. Istook on March 24, at a Capitol Hill gathering to announced the amendment.

The amendment states that "The government shall not compel joining in prayer, initiate or compose school prayer, discriminate against or deny a benefit on account of religion." But critics point out that this is a ruse designed to move prayer and other religious ritual into the public schools and government venues under the guise of "student initiated" or "student led" praying. American Atheists National Media Coordinator Ron Barrier has denounced the Religious Freedom Amendment as "another try at an end-run around state-church separation." Barrier also noted that RFA "puts the government seal of approval on religious belief."

"Even religionists don't need the RFA to practice their conjuring rituals," said Mr. Barrier. "There are over 300,000 churches, temples, mosques and other tax-exempt locations where religious people of various faiths can go to worship or appease the deity of their choice. This proposed Amendment isn't about 'freedom to worship,' it's about legitimizing public religious display in government, and coercing others to either participate in prayer or watch others pray."

Graphic Rule

Judge Roy Moore: Over The Edge?

Moore Speaks on
White Supremacist
Identity Program
by Conrad Goeringer
with Larry Mundinger, Margie Wait and Barb Buttram
from AANEWS by American Atheists


April 13, 1997

In the days and hours leading up to yesterday's rally, Judge Roy Moore did little to tone down his sectarian religious rhetoric, or even denounce the more extreme, bigoted groups hopping onto the "Save Our Commandments" coalition. Those groups included Southern partitionist movements as well as those with an explicit anti-gay, anti-abortion agenda such as Randall Terry's Life Ministry. Last week, Moore declared that American was founded on belief in a specific (i.e. Christian) deity, and told reporters that the country is "not a nation founded upon the Hindu god or Buddha."

On Tuesday, though, Judge Moore was interviewed on a shortwave radio program called "Scripture for America" operated by Rev. Pete Peters out of Laporte, Colorado. Peters is one of the leading exponents of a theo-political movement known as Christian Identity, which preaches that blacks, Jews and others are descendants of the devil. The show's home page on the world wide web says that Peters and his movement are "dedicated to preaching of the Kingdom of Jesus Christ and revealing to the Anglo-Saxon, German and kindred (white) Americans their true biblical identity."

Peters is known for his participation with extreme groups such as Aryan Nations and the Idaho-based Church of Jesus Christ Christian, an organizational nexus for Ku Klux Klan and neo-Nazi movements. He fuses his racist theology with a hatred for abortion and homosexuality, and advocates the death penalty for gays. Each summer, Peters has hosted a "family style" Bible retreat which attracts Christian rock groups, militia types and Identity believers.

During his stint on "Scriptures for America," Moore outlined his case and maintained that the Ten Commandments were the foundation of American government.

On Friday, a spokesperson for Moore said that the judge was unaware of the racist Identity views of Rev. Peters.

Graphic Rule

Public Still Subsidizing
Moore's Fight for
Courtroom Religion
by Conrad Goeringer
from AANEWS by American Atheists


April 14, 1997

One goal of Sunday's prayer rally in Montgomery, Alabama was to raise money for Judge Roy Moore, the state circuit jurist who opens official courtroom proceedings with a Baptist invocation and posts a copy of the Ten Commandments on the wall next to his bench. But just as the judge would like to make his peculiar religious exercises those of the public, he also apparently wants the public subsidizing his fight on behalf of prayer and public religiosity all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court if necessary. So does Governor Fob James, and so does Alabama Attorney General Bill Pryor.

In 1995, Moore was taken to court by the American Civil Liberties Union on behalf of the Alabama Freethought Association; another judge, Charles Price, eventually ruled that Moore's courtroom prayer and Decalogue posting were unconstitutional, and issued an "order to cease and desist." The State of Alabama was a plaintiff in that original suit. The case is now under review by the Alabama Supreme Court, which will probably support Judge Moore's position, and result in an appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court.


Who pays?

The State of Alabama can spend public monies on that suit if it wishes to, although according to today's edition of the Gadsden (Alabama) Times, Moore supporters are going ahead with fund raising plans in anticipation of the appeal. The paper also noted that last week, Pryor's office filed an amicus brief in support of Judge Moore, and requested oral argument in the case. It may still be several weeks, though, before the state high court hears the actual case.

  • Either way, there is a good chance that taxpayers will end up paying for a portion of Judge Moore's legal efforts, including a costly appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court.
  • Graphic Rule

    Huntsville Times

    Louisiana Judge:
    Moore Hung Display
    "Wrong Way"
    by Christopher Baughman

    April 19, 1997

    Baton Rouge, La. -- While an Alabama judge has caused controversy for refusing to remove a display of the Ten Commandments from above his bench, a Baton Rouge jurist said hardly anyone has mentioned the copy hanging in his own courtroom.

    State District Judge Bob Downing said a law professor is the only person who has commented on the Ten Commandments poster on display in Downing's court since 1990.

    "He was surprised that it was hung constitutionally," Downing said. "Most people don't display it in a constitutional manner."

    That's what has caused the firestorm around Judge Roy Moore of Gadsden, Ala., Downing said. An Alabama court has ruled that Moore's display of the Ten Commandants violates the Constitution by promoting one religion over another.

    That didn't sit well with thousands of people who rallied in support of Moore recently at the Alabama State Capitol.

    Moore's problems with the higher court are his own making, Downing said.

    "He could hang it right if he took the time to read the Supreme Court rulings and follow them," Downing said. "He did it the wrong way."

    Moore's plaque of the Ten Commandments hangs over his bench, which would put it in full view of the courtroom. And he asks others to pray with him in court.

    Downing said the Supreme Court has ruled that the Ten Commandments can be displayed in courts under certain conditions. Jurors cannot see them, Downing said, and they must be displayed among other documents.

    Downing's copy -- a white poster with blue letters -- hangs on a a back wall of the courtroom, out of the view of the jury box.

    Downing's courtroom walls also sport early state flags, copies of the Bill of Rights and Declaration of Independence, pictures and quotations from famous Americans including Thomas Jefferson, Martin Luther King Jr. and Abraham Lincoln.

    On either side of the Ten Commandments, Downing has posted warnings.

    One is a tongue-in-cheek advisory: it says that both children and adults have felt guilt, remorse and other emotions after reading the Ten Commandments.

    "I thought it would be humorous," Downing said, pointing out that lawyers have managed to have warning labels put on many items, including hammers.

    "I thought it would be kind of a spoof on lawyers to put a warning label on the Ten Commandments," he said.

    The other warning is a public notice telling people the Ten Commandments poster is hung for historical purposes. That's in keeping with Supreme Court rulings that say the religious tenets can be posted for historical reasons, but not religious ones, Downing said.

    "It's the foundation of our laws," he said. "I think people should have some knowledge of their history."

    That might be admirable, but perhaps insensitive, said Joe Cook, executive director of the Louisiana chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union.

    There are about 1,500 different religions and sects in the United States, making this the most religiously diverse nation on Earth, Cook said. Many of those faiths are not grounded in traditional Christian or Jewish values, he said.

    Downing's display probably is constitutional, Cook said.

    "It might pass muster, but it could be offensive to some peoples' beliefs," Cook said.

    A Baton Rouge Muslim said the Ten Commandments themselves aren't offensive.

    "I can't think of anything in the Ten Commandments that would be offensive," said Edward Ott of the Islamic Center of Baton Rouge. "If you called them the 'Ten Rules to Live By,' I don't think anybody would have a problem."

    Ott said what was offensive in Alabama were comments made by Judge Moore about Muslims, Hindus and Buddhists. Moore has said the United States is not a country based on those religions.

    Those comments show no respect for other religions besides Christianity, Ott said.

    Downing said he doesn't mean to offend anyone.

    But his patience has worn thin with people he said were "hyper-technical" about displaying the Ten Commandments.

    Courthouses hung copies for 200 years before people started "jack hammering" away at them about 1965, Downing said.

    "It's silly to me that there is even a controversy over this at all," he said. "It's very difficult to tell somebody, 'You shouldn't steal and you shouldn't kill,' and they say, 'Who says so?'"

    Graphic Rule

    Louisiana Judge Has
    Stealth Religious Display
    by Conrad Goeringer
    with Barb Buttram and Larry Mundinger
    from AANEWS by American Atheists


    April 24, 1997

    Alabama Circuit Judge Roy Moore went about it the wrong way, says a Louisiana Judge who has avoided controversy even though he too posts a copy of the Ten Commandments on his courtroom wall. The current Gadsden (Alabama) Times carries an Associated Press story today about State District Judge Bob Downing, who insists that Moore could display the Ten Commandments "if he took time to read the Supreme court rulings and follow them." Downing has a copy of the Commandments displayed on a white poster with blue letters hanging at the back of his courtroom where they cannot be seen from the jury box. In addition, the courtroom walls are decorated with copies of the Bill of Rights, Declaration of Independence, quotes from American historical figures and early Louisiana state flags. He has also posted a "warning" on each side of the Ten Commandments which, says AP, declare "that both children and adults have felt guilt, remorse and other emotions after reading the Ten Commandments."

    Downing said that the warnings are "humorous", adding "I though it would be kind of a spoof on lawyers to put a warning label on the Ten Commandments." One warning poster also informs the public that the Commandments are being displayed "for historical purposes."

    "That's in keeping with Supreme Court rulings that say the religious tenets can be posted for historical reasons, but not religious ones, Downing said."


    Religion Isn't Religious Say The Religious ...

    The Louisiana posting of the Decalogue may be disingenuous compared to the openly religious intent of Alabama Judge Roy Moore. Downing, who notes that the only person who has commented on the Decalogue display in his court has been a law professor, typifies one rationalization of those working to keep religious displays in government, public venues. Indeed, everything from religious mottos on coin to prayers at the beginning of government sessions, has increasingly been defended as a historical or community tradition, not a religious exercise.

    AP quotes the Director of the Louisiana ACLU, who says that Downing's display is probably constitutional. "It must pass muster, but it could be offensive to some people's beliefs," Joe Cook remarked.

    Graphic Rule