Mr. Moore defends church link


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Oct 18 2002

Moore defends church link

By Todd Kleffman Montgomery Advertiser

Morris Dees attempted on Thursday to show that Chief Justice Roy Moore has a close relationship with a multimedia ministry in Florida that has been instrumental in promoting Moore's Ten Commandments monument.

Moore, chief justice of the Alabama Supreme Court, agreed in federal court to a statement read by Dees that "Coral Ridge Ministries has been an immense help in the long battle to acknowledge God."

Three attorneys are suing Moore to have a 5,300-pound granite monument inscribed with the Ten Commandments removed from the rotunda of the state Judicial Building. The trial began Tuesday. Coral Ridge, with its headquarters in Fort Lauderdale and led by the Rev. D. James Kennedy, had exclusive rights to film the making of the monument and its installation during the night of July 31, 2001.

The ministry, which has nationally broadcast television and radio programs on which Moore has been a regular guest, also has coordinated fund-raising for Moore's defense fund. The fund pays for Moore's lawyers and a private phone line in Moore's judicial office, testimony revealed.

Moore's lead attorney, Stephen Melchior, objected to testimony about Coral Ridge's involvement with Moore, saying it is irrelevant and part of "the enormous yarn Mr. Dees is weaving for this court."

Dees, co-founder of the Southern Poverty Law Center and attorney for plaintiff Stephen Glassroth, countered that the case is about the separation of church and state, and the testimony goes toward establishing the relationship between Moore and the church.

U.S. District Judge Myron Thompson allowed the line of questioning to continue, but stopped Dees from asking particular questions about the defense fund because Moore testified that it was arranged through Melchior and he had no personal knowledge of how it operated.

Tom Parker, a spokesman for Moore, said outside the courtroom that Moore "is a very independent man. He is not the puppet of any church."

Glassroth and the other lawyers seeking to have the monument removed testified Tuesday that its presence, backed by Moore's personal religious convictions, make them wonder if their cases are decided on religious or legal grounds.

Moore testified Wednesday that the monument represents the "moral foundation of law." He contends it doesn't establish a particular religion but merely recognizes the historic role the Commandments have played in American government and law.

With Moore set to resume his testimony Thursday, his attorneys requested their expert witnesses be allowed to testify first because they had to leave town to fulfill other commitments. Judge Thompson denied the request, saying he didn't want to interrupt the chief justice's testimony. "I'm really am seriously trying to understand his arguments and I think I am beginning to understand where he is coming from," Thompson said. "I've got some basic high school questions I need to ask." Thompson said the defense experts could come back next week because a trial originally scheduled to begin Monday in his courtroom had been postponed. Moore's trial, which was expected to end Friday, can now expand into next week, the judge said.

One of the questions Thompson asked Moore was how he defines religion.

Moore said he relies on a definition used by the United States' "founding fathers" when they framed the Constitution: "The duties we owe our Creator and the manner in which we discharge those duties."

And at the time of the country's founding, that definition of religion referred to the Christian faith, not Islam, Hinduism or any other faith, Moore said. An 1890 U.S. Supreme Court decision defined religion to be man's "view toward and relationship to the Creator," Moore said, and that definition has not been updated by the high court.

When Dees questioned Moore about the installation of the monument, the chief justice said he acted alone in deciding what it would contain and whether to display it in the Judicial Building rotunda. "No displays can go in the rotunda without approval from the chief justice," he said.

In March of 2001, four months before the monument was installed, Melchior wrote a letter to Coral Ridge and struck a deal with the ministry to help raise money for Moore's legal defense, according to a letter Dees displayed in court.

Melchior also invited a Coral Ridge crew to film the monument as it was being created and later when it was installed during the dark of night. Moore said that though he was not involved in the exchange, he did not disapprove of his attorney's plan.

No other media were notified that the monument was going in. Moore said he preferred to have the event documented by Coral Ridge because "I know the public media doesn't reflect my issues as accurately as Coral Ridge Ministries."

Moore said the monument was originally scheduled to be delivered at 6 p.m. on July 31, while it was still daylight. A delay caused it to arrive at 9 p.m. The installation was completed at 4:43 a.m. on Aug. 1, he said.

Moore testified he did not inform his fellow justices of his plans because he was concerned they would become defendants in litigation he expected to arise from the monument.

He also said he did not discuss the monument with the Building Use Committee, an advisory board made up of judges and various other personnel who work at the Judicial Building. The committee had been dormant for a while, so he didn't bother, Moore said.

Moore said, however, that he did consult the committee when state Rep. Alvin Holmes, D-Montgomery, requested that a monument honoring the Rev. Martin Luther King's "I Have a Dream" speech be installed in the rotunda. The committee also was involved in discussions about a monument the American Atheists Association wanted to place in the rotunda. Both requests were denied.

Moore also said he turned down requests by Christian groups to place other items they thought would compliment the Ten Commandments in the rotunda.

"We didn't want the rotunda to become a hanging garden of different concepts," he said.

Todd Kleffman can be reached at 240-0114, by fax at 261-1521 or by e-mail.