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NOVEMBER 18, 2002PUBLIC RELIGION Decision: Ten Commandments must be removed from Alabama courthouse Passionate supporters and tenacious opponents eagerly awaited the November 18 decision in the U.S.
District Court case of Alabama Supreme Court Chief Justice Roy Moore. U.S. District Court Judge Myron Thompson ruled that the 5,300-pound granite Ten Commandments monument Moore placed in Alabama’s Judicial Building rotunda last year constitutes government endorsement of religion and must be removed within thirty days. Because of Moore’s personality and popularity, this case is the most picturesque of at least a dozen currently in play across the country.
Thompson has taken on the big picture, saying the case turns on whether the state can acknowledge God. The ruling comes as the number of lawsuits involving the nation’s 4,000-plus Ten Commandments displays is increasing, as are efforts to post new ones. It’s a movement whose drama and passion strikes a spark with residents of every region of the country and in every walk of life.
How will residents in your area react to the decision? Have there been conflicts in your state over Ten Commandments displays or efforts to post them? Have opinions shifted since Sept. 11, 2001?Why It Matters Neither the courts nor Americans is united on whether the Ten Commandments should be displayed on public property.
Although the legal tide recently has favored keeping the Commandments off public land, the question is far from settled. For some, the issue is the opening wedge in a campaign to establish the United States as a Christian nation.
Civil libertarians and some members of minority religions see themselves as fighting to stop this incursion into the constitutional separation of church and state.•
The Center for Reclaiming America in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., supports Moore's posting of the Ten Commandments.
It is affiliated with D. James Kenndy's Coral Ridge Ministries. Contact 877-725-8872 or 954-351-3353.• Charles Haynes, senior scholar at the Gannett Freedom Forum's First Amendment Center at Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tenn., can discuss the historical underpinning of such disputes.
He says there are too many Ten Commandments cases in the courts at this point to keep track of them all. He expects even more cases since state legislatures are passing "a tremendous amount" of legislation encouraging the posting of the Ten Commandments in public places.
Read Haynes' Nov. 10, 2002, column in which he says the Ten Commandments push is part of a wider agenda by conservative Christians. Contact 703-528-0800, Chaynes@freedomforum.org •
Contact Judge Roy Moore's lead attorney, Stephen Melchior of Cheyenne, Wyo., 307-637-2323, and another of his attorneys, Herbert Titus in Virginia, 757-467-0616, email@example.com •
The plaintiffs in Moore's case are three attorneys represented by the American Civil Liberties Union, the Southern Poverty Law Center and Americans United for Separation of Church and State.
Contact attorney Stephen R. Glassroth of Montgomery, Ala., 334-263-9900. Contact Rob Boston, assistant communications director, at the Washington, D.C.-based Americans United for Separation of Church and State, (202) 466-3234. •
Manjit Singh, executive director of Sikh Mediawatch And Resource Task Force in Germantown, Md., says members of minority religions, particularly Sikhs, often feel a mix of patriotism and intimidation when confronted with civil religious displays.
He says religious patriotism can push minorities to the periphery and casts them aside as Americans. Contact 877-917-4547.• Read a timeline of Ten Commandment displays and court rulings. •
Read a November 18 ABC News/Associated Press article about Judge Thompson's ruling, which Moore is expected to appeal.•
Read a history of Moore's Ten Commandments battle as well as other materials supporting Moore at Reclaiming America: Defending the Ten Commandments. •
Read an Oct. 25, 2002, Washington Post story about how Judge Roy Moore has become a folk hero. •
In a 1990 Gallup poll, 42 percent of adults were able to name as many as five of the Ten Commandments correctly. •
The Ten Commandments are basic tenets for the more than 80 percent of Americans who identify themselves as Christian or Jewish. Proponents of public postings say the commandments are a critical historical document that should help guide Americans' everyday actions. Critics say four of the commandments are explicitly religious and that posting them constitutes the state endorsement of religion. •
The Ten Commandments are listed in three places in the Bible, Exodus 20:2-17, Exodus 34:12-26, and Deuteronomy 5:6-21. Exodus 20 is the most commonly used set. Christians and Jews of varying traditions group them differently.
Christian scriptures can be searched at gospelcom.net. Read the Jewish version at a Web page devoted to Shavuot, the commemoration of Moses receiving the Ten Commandments at Mount Sinai.•
For background on religion and religiosity in American history, see a Library of Congress online exhibit, Religion and The Founding of the American Republic.
The exhibit concludes that it was a religious people who rose in rebellion against Great Britain in 1776: "Most American statesmen, when they began to form new governments at the state and national levels, shared the convictions of most of their constituents that religion was, to quote Alexis de Tocqueville's observation, indispensable to the maintenance of republican institutions."•
Read a transcript of a forum about civil religion since Sept. 11, 2001 sponsored by the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life, including discussion of the Ten Commandments. •
Americans United for Separation of Church and State offers a liberal interpretation of the Moore case. •
Read the conservative American Center for Law and Justice's discussion of Ten Commandments displays in public places.
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